Harold Cruse – The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967)


“Polemics seldom age well. But when Harold Cruse published The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual during the fall of 1967, he aimed his verbal artillery in so many directions that it seems as if some of the missiles are still landing four decades later. … Crisis was certainly a product of its time – a moment when the alliances of the Civil Rights movement were disintegrating fast, and arguments over the direction of African-American politics and culture filled the air. Cruse took the measure of various ideologies and found them wanting. He had no use for what he saw as the illusions of the integrationist agenda. He was a black nationalist, yet quite pointed in criticizing the influence of Marcus Garvey and other pan-Africanists from the Caribbean. It was obvious that Cruse owed a lot to Marxist theory — but he complained about the blind spots of radicals spreading the gospel of proletarian revolution to the ghetto. At the same time, he was critical of leading figures within the African-American arts. At just about the time Cruse was finishing work on his manuscript, the call for ‘Black Power’ began to be heard among younger activists. But he kept a distance from that slogan, too: ‘In effect,’ he wrote, ‘it covers up a defeat without having to explain either the basic reasons for it or the flaws in the original strategy; it suggests the dimensions of a future victory in the attainment of goals while, at the same time, dispelling the fears of more defeats in the pursuit of such goals.’ It was a cantankerous book, then. But there was more to it than that. In arguing with everybody, the author was also, doubtless arguing with himself — for along the way he must have adopted at least some of the positions under attack in its pages. Rereading The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual not long ago, I came away convinced that is one of the classic works of American cultural criticism. If the author seems cranky at times … well, so does Thorstein Veblen. Rather than devoting this column to celebration of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual on its 40th anniversary, however, I thought it would be more interesting to discuss Cruse’s work with a young historian who is by no means uncritical of the book. …”
40 Years of ‘The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual’
NY Times: The Cultural Revolutionary (May 2005)
W – Harold Cruse
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