On Democracy CULTURAL REVOLUTIONSrnIn his otherwise excellent column “ThernIllusions of Democracy” (Perspective,rnJanuary 1996), Thomas Fleming writes:rn”We, however, send our children to arnschool where they are taught theories ofrnEnglish grammar, theories of literary interpretationrn(New Criticism, Reader Response,rnfeminist interpretation—it is allrnthe same) and scientific theories theyrnwill never understand, much less apply.”rnI have taught in both high schools andrnuniversities (why dignify them by use ofrnthe upper case?) and would (I think)rnconsider this pessimistic view unfair or atrnleast overdone. I restrict myself to onernpoint, however: Does Dr. Fleming reallyrnconsider New Criticism no differentrnfrom feminist interpretation? Does hernconsider, for example, John Crowe Ransom’srnessay on “Lycidas” the equivalentrnof Eve Sedgwick’s “Jane Austen and thernMasturbating Girl?” Are the essays ofrnRobert Penn Warren, John Hollander, orrnChristopher Ricks on a par with therngarbage published in the MLA quarterly,rnwhich I use to line my cats’ litter box?rnDr. Fleming’s condemnation is toornsweeping. I hope he will reconsider.rn—Robert AlpertrnWatertovm, MArnDr. Fleming Replies:rnI am grateful to Mr. Alpert for his politernresponse, but I am sticking to my guns.rnObviously, the various schools of criticismrnhave different levels of mischief.rnRansom and Warren both wrote goodrnpoetry which display the essential soundnessrnof their literary instincts, but in theirrncriticism all the New Critics, even thernmost brilliant and learned, were perpetratingrnthe same sort of fraudulent theoreticalrnexercises as the structural linguistsrnand anthropologists who were their contemporaries.rnLiterature needs to be read, not interpreted,rnand hermeneutics should be restrictedrnto sacred texts. As a would-bernpoet and student of Greek, I found thernNew Critics stultifying. The literary criticismrnpracticed by my English professorsrnfilled me with horror. It was as if ghoulsrnhad disinterred Elizabeth Siddal not tornretrieve Rossetti’s poems but to paw overrnher corpse. To escape the depredationsrnof the critics, I fled into pedantry andrnhave remained there ever since.rnT H E CONFEDERATE battle flagrncontinues to be a source of conflict andrncontroversy. One year ago, MichaelrnWesterman of Elkton, Kentucky, a 19-rnyear-old father of twins, was murderedrnby black teens who took offense to thernConfederate flag hung in the back ofrnWesterman’s truck. When one of thernblack teens, Freddie Morrow, was sentencedrnto life in prison for the murder,rnhe and his relatives blamed everythingrnon the flag. As the Lexington Herald-rnLeader reported in January, though “lastrnweek’s trial was conflicting over the symbolismrnof the flag, Morrow’s grieving relativesrnhave no doubts: the Rebel flag is arnprovocative symbol of hatred and oppression.rn[They] blame it for his life sentencernin prison.”rnJohn Shelton Reed argued a few yearsrnago that the country needed some otherrnsymbol for the South than the Confederaternbattle flag, which so many people,rnparticularly black Southerners, foundrnoffensive. I replied that we had littlernchoice in the matter. History gives yournyour symbols—you cannot make themrnup. The battle flag has entered into thernfolk consciousness of the country—indeedrnof the worid—as the symbol of thernSouth.rnHad I been quick enough I wouldrnhave added: Because skinheads wearrncrosses, do we have to take down all therncrosses from the churches? The AmericanrnNazis in the I930’s (and Americanrncommunists, too) met under the Starsrnand Stripes and huge portraits of AbrahamrnLincoln. Does that mean we havernto burn all five dollar bills? The Confederaternbattle flag is too large a symbol tornbe invalidated by its use or misuse in onernparticular period.rnSheldon Vanauken, author of thernChristian classic A Severe Mercy, tells inrnhis autobiography how he, a Virginian,rnwent through a bohemian period in NewrnYork after the early untimely death of hisrnwife. During this period he took part inrna number of civil rights demonstrationsrncarrying a placard with the battle flagrnon one side. More than once he wasrnstopped by a friendly New York cop with:rn”Buddy, you’re in the wrong demonstration.”rnVanauken then would turn hisrnplacard around to the other side, whichrnsaid: “Confederates for civil rights.”rnA report in my local press recently toldrnthe story of a World War II incident, typicalrnof many, because it is my impressionrnthat the battle flag was carried proudly inrnthat war, in Korea, and even in Vietnam.rnThe Fifth Marine Division, after desperaternfighting, took Shuri Castle, the lastrnpoint of resistance on Okinawa. The onlyrnflag available to the first men in was arnConfederate battle flag carried in thernhelmet of Captain Julius Dusenberry, arnSouth Carolinian, which was unfurledrnand hauled up. As far as I am aware, nornone on the front lines objected to the displayrnof that honorable American symbol.rnCertainly not the local commander,rnGeneral Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., sonrnof a Confederate general, and who wasrnlater killed in action.rnDuring the televised events of the fallrnof Soviet occupation in the Baltic states,rnI remember a glimpse of one man in thernjubilant crowd waving a Confederaternbattle flag in a sea of Estonian flags. Irnwould like to know what that man wasrnthinking. We ought to consider what thernflag meant to him, nor do I think it isrnexplained merely by reference to neofascismrnor adolescent rebellion. Did hernview the flag as an expression of highrnspirits? As a symbol of heroic resistancernby an outnumbered, conquered people?rnWas it sympathy expressed by someonernwhose own national symbols had beenrnforbidden for half a century with anotherrnpeople whose symbols were threatened?rnAnd where is the offense to be foundrnin this honorable American symbol? ArnHarris poll in 1994, reported by Reuters,rnfound that American adults, by a threeto-rnone margin, saw nothing offensive inrnthe use of Confederate symbols in staternflags. Some 71 percent of Southernrnwhites wanted the symbols kept. Mostrninterestingly, 68 percent of black Americansrnsaid they did not find the flagrnpersonally offensive, though 31 percentrndid. (Presumably the young black menrnwho chased down and murdered Mr.rnWesterman were among those offended.)rnThese figures suggest that the issuerntoday is an artificial one, agitated for thernsake of agitation and to assist the otherwisernflagging careers of certain politicians.rnCertainly the efforts to suppress staternflags have failed, as in Georgia, despiternthe entire weight of the civil rights establishmentrnand the Atlanta plutocrats.rnAnd since the United States Senate of-rnMAY 1996/5rnrnrn