How do intellectuals respond to war and social upheaval? When do they remain cloistered in the ivory tower, and when do they engage themselves in political activism? In this forcefully argued study, David L. Schalk compares American responses to the Vietnam War with French responses to the Algerian War, finding many striking similarities in the way intellectuals voiced their outrage at the policies of their governments.
Schalk, whose previous book on French political engagement was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, argues that in both France and the United States political activism by intellectuals passed through similar cycles of engagement. Early American and French responses to the wars included teach-ins, persuasive, often scholarly writings, and petitions. When logical persuasion failed to influence government policy, moral outrage succeeded this pedagogic stage, and intellectuals warned the people of these two countries in essays and open letters that the ethical ideals of their societies were at risk. When these two forms of protest proved ineffectual, many intellectuals began to call for "counter-legal" actions—like draft or tax resistance, and civil disobedience—which could, and often did, lead to arrest.
After establishing this framework, and giving ample background information on Algeria and Vietnam, Schalk proceeds with a vivid, in-depth account of the words and deeds of such intellectuals as Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, and Daniel Berrigan in the U.S., and Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in France. Drawing on hundreds of articles from books, newspapers, and magazines of the period—such as The New York Review of Books, and Ramparts (which had a circulation of 300,000 in 1967, but which disappeared within months of the end of the Vietnam War)—Schalk reconstructs in detail the turbulent decades which shook both American and French society. We recall how poet Robert Lowell snubbed Lyndon Johnson by refusing to participate in a White House arts festival, and how Sartre refused to accept the Nobel Prize (which his nemesis Camus had received a few years earlier). We witness Father Berrigan's acts of "ultra-resistance," and his time spent in hiding and in jail, which Schalk helps us to compare to French activists like Francis Jeanson (who went underground to help the Algerian independence movement), and the Catholic radicals associated with the French magazine Esprit (which prophetically and stubbornly resisted the horror of the Algerian War).
At a time when protest is out of fashion, and intellectuals themselves may be nearly extinct, this book presents a needed reexamination of what it means for intellectuals to speak out about issues of international importance. War and the Ivory Tower provides a crucial analysis of intellectuals and their accomplishments in opposing two cruel and divisive wars which most people would like to forget.