Nat(han Irving) Hentoff

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Edward T. Chase

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402

Mr. Hentoff's book [The New Equality] is the most sophisticated gloss of the [Civil Rights] Movement to date. So keen is his sensibility, so evident his intimacy with what's going on, and, most important, so pertinent are his suggestions for social action that The New Equality, for all its brevity, stands almost alone … among the flood of recent books on the subject. One has confidence that Hentoff really understands what Negroes are feeling.

But a further distinction is that his account traces the intellectual evolution of the Movement's leadership and the concurrent criticism of "outside" observers. Hentoff's style is to counterpunch. He makes his points by scoring off the inadequacies of such commentators as Norman Mailer, Norman Podhoretz of Commentary and John Fischer of Harper's. Sometimes he misreads Fischer. Yet his pinpointed charges of naïveté and condescension are mostly telling.

Hentoff is not satisfied with mere reportage. The most ambitious aspect of his book is his prescription of where the Movement now must go—namely into a drive for structural changes of the social order, preeminently in education, employment and economic opportunity. Sensitively and logically the reader is led into a confrontation with a rationale for social revolution, the peaceful variety. The revolution he outlines may strike you as mild or not so mild. That will depend on where you stand—and not where you stand on Negroes' rights so much as on your assessment of the equity of American life in general. For Hentoff is suggesting that the victimization of the Negro is, among other things, only the most extreme instance of the cruelties in a competitive, market-dominated society insufficiently imbued with concern for social justice. (p. 29)

Hentoff's resources are a highly intelligent empathy combined with experience of Negro life. He can deftly make a point with a quotation such as Miles Davis's "Every Negro over fifty should get a medal for putting up with all that crap"; or by deftly marshalling the most pertinent evidence from the new findings of sociology and psychology. Whatever Hentoff may lack in system is compensated for by his astonishing range and the relish with which he brings his own mind to reflect upon it as an amateur, in the best sense of that word. (p. 30)

Edward T. Chase, "Faces of the Racial Revolution," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1965 The New Republic, Inc.). Vol. 152, No. 4, January 23, 1965, pp. 29-30, 32.∗

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