Howard Schwartz’s book Society Against Itself will delight some, infuriate others and should scare the living daylights out of any thinking person. For if his analysis is correct, Western civilization is on a path of self-destruction. This will come not out of external factors such as terrorism or environmental degradation, but, as Freud said a propos of all death, for reasons internal to itself. Having lost faith in objectivity and external reality, we have lapsed into a collective hysteria of wishful thinking and fantasy. Society Against Itself speaks with the voice of a prophet. It demands to be heard. But can we still bring ourselves to listen to such voices?
(Yiannis Gabriel, Ph.D., author of Storytelling in Organizations and Professor of Organizational Theory, University of Bath)
The guy in the green shirt is me, Howard Schwartz. I’m standing in front of an apartment building in Bonifacio, Corsica where we rented a flat. They say that Napoleon stayed in this place while he planned an invasion of Sardinia, which you can see from the balcony. The invasion was never mounted, but I like to think that M. Bonaparte availed himself of the marvelous almond croissants that you can get in the bakery down the block. Of course, maybe he didn’t.
Anyway, before I retired, my colleagues at Oakland University gave me the title Emeritus Professor. I think that means that I get to say I am a professor forever. I like that. I also like that I get to keep my email address forever: (Schwartz@Oakland.edu).
I think we all have an existential debt, which we owe to the world for giving us life and sustaining us. My side of the balance is mainly made out of my writings, especially my books, of which there have been four.
First of them was Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organization Ideal (NYU Press: 1990). It was a nice bit of work, I think, and I could have continued that line of inquiry, but in the course of writing it, something else turned up.
Coming back to Michigan after a sabbatical near the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where I did most of the work, I was talking about it with the university pastor, who ran a faculty discussion group that he thought might be interested in what I was doing. I went to talk to them and, as I was laying the groundwork in psychoanalytic theory, a woman in the audience began having what appeared to be a fit.
After a while, her rage bubbled over and she began going on about how Freud was a monster. He was a racist and a sexist, and whatever other epithets they had going in those days. I don’t remember the details, but it was soon clear to me that, though she spoke with the voice of unquestionable authority, she didn’t know what she was talking about. She had a few disconnected bits of information, some of them quite zany, and proffered them as a basis for ejecting Freud from the intellectual universe. But what struck me was not so much the vacuity of her criticism, it was the affect. This was not the way a university faculty member spoke to another faculty member. It was not even the way an adult engaged in conversation with another adult. The level of hatred and contempt would have made any exchange impossible.
I looked around the room to see how others were responding to her outburst, expecting them to be as stunned as I was.. But they were not looking at her; they were looking at me. And their expression said that they thought I was the one who had done something wrong.
I said to myself : “Oh, my! This is interesting!”
I had the name for it immediately. From my upbringing on the left, I knew that my sin was political incorrectness. That term did not become common until later, but I knew it to be apposite then, and I made that interest into my project.
Some time, later, a guy who read my stuff said that he thought it rose out of a deep hurt that I had suffered. I said, no, I have not been hurt. Plenty have been, but not me. I got into the study because I was fascinated. And I still am.
Three books, and some miscellaneous writings, have come of it so far: The Revolt of the Primitive: An Inquiry into the Root of Political Correctness (Transaction: 2003), Society Against Itself: Political Correctness and Organizational Self-Destruction (Karnac: 2010), and, most recently, Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self, which came out in October 2016.
A note on purchasing this last book is in order. The publisher is Palgrave Macmillan, who are an academic publisher. Their market is primarily college students, who can download their books for free, or have a custom paperback made for nominal cost, through their library’s connection to Springerlink.com, provided their university purchases Palgrave’s list. They sell hardback copies of their books on the open market, but these are meant for libraries, and the cost is ridiculous. They may bring a paperback version out before too long, at a realistic price, if they believe there is an interest. Until that time, if you want a copy, and you aren’t a college student, or otherwise a member of a university community, grab someone who is. Meanwhile, if you barrage them (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your desire, that will work for all of us. There’s a prize for anyone who does. [UPDATE: A paperback version, at a reasonable price, will be brought out in September.]
I’ve posted the conclusion of the book, as a sample, elsewhere on this blog
A few autobiographical details: I was born in New York City, where I attended the Bronx High School of Science. Getting out of New York as soon as I was able, I went to Antioch College, then to graduate school in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and then UCSD. In all this, I was a rotten student. Finally, I went to Cornell, where I grew up and got my PhD in organizational behavior. I started teaching at Oakland University in 1977, and remained there until 2015, when I retired. I now live, again, in New York. Fortunately, the road between the two New Yorks was long and interesting.
I live now with my wife Ann and our cat Stella D’Oro. My kids, by another marriage, are Robin, who lives in Cincinnati, and Cassie, who lives in London and is married to Camilo. My sister Susan has a daughter Rebecca, who is married to Adam. And that’s it.