Editor of Deliberately Considered
At DC, Jeffrey C. Goldfarb is the host of a conversation that includes observers and commentators from many disciplines, backgrounds and interests. He conceives of the site as an open space for the deliberate reflection and debate that keeps alive the cultural sensibility of the work published in the small magazines of New York and the discussions in Central European cafes of the 20th century. New York meets Central Europe. DC is a logical extension of Jeff’s story.
It was about fifteen years into my career as a sociologist when I realized that I have been addressing one central question my entire intellectual life. What are the conditions and consequences of free speech? Or put a little more abstractly and precisely, what are the conditions and consequences of free public life? Twenty years after this realization, I continue on the same course, leading me to embark on my newest venture, this on line magazine, Deliberately Considered.
I started by observing the protests surrounding a 1967 Pete Seeger concert in my home town, East Meadow, N.Y. I wrote a term paper, studying for the first time people who were passionately in favor of free public exchange and those who were opposed, between those who wanted to hear the famous folk singer, and those who thought he would disrupt public safety because of vehement opposition to the performance of an infamous Communist sympathizer.
I developed my sociological perspective at the State University of New York at Albany, leading to my B.A. and M.A. and then at the University of Chicago for my Ph.D. At both places I continued to address my primary question, as I pursued my general and professional educational goals.
While at Albany, I wrote a paper demonstrating how the degree of artistic freedom in the New York theater world increased as distance from the market increased, from Broadway to off Broadway to off-off Broadway. There was something commonsensical about the paper, but it had implications which eventually led me to my dissertation research and to the publications of my first and second books. The Peristence of Freedom: the Sociological Implications of Polish Student Theater, and On Cultural Freedom: An Exploration of Public Life in Poland and America.
At Chicago, I learned to appreciate and critically evaluate the importance of tradition in what was at first a contentious relationship with Edward Shils, which concluded in mutual respect. With Morris Janowitz, I developed an understanding of the importance of institutions. And from my primary mentor, Donald Levine, I found a place within a tradition of sociological inquiry, developing my own approach to a dialogic sociology and learning the importance of analytic and expressive clarity. I went to Chicago with a grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board to prepare for my dissertation research in Poland in 1973-4. I applied the sociological insights of my teachers to a study of theater in Poland. I saw things differently thanks to my teachers, even though the world I was thinking about was remote to them.
I expected to go to Poland, do my research there, and then move on: to show how in Poland, as in the United States, the distance from the powers increased the possibility of innovative and politically challenging cultural expression. But the Poles proved to be too interesting and creative for me to turn away, and while I was there I saw something extremely important that was completely unexpected. I observed a zone of independent action that was constituted in Polish experimental theater, and then, after completing my dissertation, I saw how such zones expanded in that society, from relatively independent cultural organizations, to an open but illegal democratic opposition, to the establishment of the first society wide labor union movement in the Soviet bloc, Solidarność, all contributing to the end of the communist system and shaping the post communist experience. As I researched and wrote about these developments after completing my dissertation, I collaborated with my oppositionist friends and colleagues. For that work, I later received the Solidarity Medal from former President Lech Walesa in 2005.
My time in Poland oriented my professional career. Each of my books one way or another is informed by my early Polish experiences. The ethnography directly led to The Persistence of Freedom. In it, I applied the findings of my study of experimental theaters in New York, with the additional appreciation that it wasn’t only a matter of establishing the possibility of free expression, but also a matter of the consequences of the free expression. A separate zone of independent life was established, a free public space that said much about the character of Polish society, and in retrospect, its potential for change. In On Cultural Freedom, I worked to generalize these findings. And each of my subsequent books addressed the conditions for and consequences of a free public life. In Beyond Glasnost: The Post Totalitarian Mind, I argued that the speech and action of an independent public were more significant than the language and apparently liberal policies of an official autocracy, pointing to the revolutionary changes that occurred months after the book’s publication. In The Cynical Society: The Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life, the importance of principled free public speech and action, in opposition to the real and imagined cynical manipulations of mass society was examined. After the Fall: The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe, Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society, The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times and in my most recent book, Reinventing Political Culture: The Power of Culture versus the Culture of Power, each address from different angles the conditions for free speech and action and their consequences, as they address a variety of different social, cultural and political problems.
My work has been developed in my longstanding intellectual home, The New School for Social Research, an institution that was founded after WW I as a place for free academic and cultural inquiry in response to the restrictions of that era. My divisional appointment is in its social science graduate school, which was first established as “The University in Exile,” for refugee scholars from Nazi Europe. In the 1980s, I helped add East Central Europe to the New School’s story.
In 1984, Adam Michnik, the great dissident intellectual was awarded an honorary doctorate at the New School. After that I worked with him as a New School colleague in developing a semi-clandestine “Democracy Seminar,” which in the end had branches all around the former Soviet bloc. The New School’s Transregional Center for Democratic Studies is an outgrowth of these activities.
My international teaching and research continues, taking me to Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and around the United States. And my research continues to be animated by questions concerning free public discussion, which I first began to address as a teenager.
During my career, my family has always been my priority. Naomi Gruson Goldfarb, my wife, has been with me through it all. My research has contributed to our very many life adventures. I long have admired her imagination and accomplishments as an artist, puzzling over the nature of her work, and over the problems she has faced. These have shaped my sociological focus. In 1979, we had our first child, a daughter, Brina, who would grow up to be an architect, living in Paris with her son, Ludovic, and her husband, Michel Gouery, an artist. In 1982, our son, Sam, was born. He’s now a journalist in Washington DC, married to Lili Lu, a business consultant. These are the main characters in my life. Loving them, thinking about them, wanting a better world for them, animates my intellectual endeavors, including Deliberately Considered.