Samuel Baron

Dr. Samuel H. Baron (1921-2017) was a Professor Emeritus of Russian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He focused his research career on the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Western influences on Muscovite Russia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He was interviewed because he was an expert in Marxism’s influence on Russian and Soviet history particularly, and European generally, and because he was a naturalist social democrat and great friend of Praxis Circle team going back to the 1970’s.

How did you become interested in Russia?

Samuel Baron:

You know, as a matter of fact, my undergraduate study was at Cornell University and I was a major in botany. And I was assuming I would have a career in that field, then came World War II. I was in the army for four years and I think that had the effect of changing my mind and my direction. I was thinking that while I love the outdoors, I loved botanizing, being in nature and so forth, that I might be more effective or at least have a better chance of having some effect upon the world if I got into a study of societies and history and the like. And so I began to think how, where, what?

I ran into a man who was in the psychological warfare division in Europe at the time, in the American forces, of course. And he told me there was going to be a new institution created at Columbia University, a Russian Institute. Nothing of the kind had existed before World War II. So I looked into it and I decided I would do it. And I did it. And of course, if it were going to be studying Russia and Russian history, Marxism had to play a significant role in it. And I was looking for a possible subject to study, went through bibliographies and I saw there was an awful lot of material about this man. And at the same time, virtually nothing had been written about him outside of Russia. So this looked to be a good way to go and I went.

USSR as a Superpower and “Knowing Your Enemy”

Samuel Baron:

There were only two universities in the United States that had courses on Russian history before then. But what changed it all of course was the emergence of Russia as a superpower in the course of World War II. So, it was felt it was very important under the circumstances to, as some people put it crudely, to know your enemy.

And so the US government did a lot of financing to set up programs of that kind at Columbia and at Harvard and subsequently a few other schools, Chicago and Berkeley and so on came on board as well. And most of us who were students at the time didn’t know any Russian language so we had to start at the bottom and we at Columbia we took intensive courses in Russian language, 10 hours a week. And doing that for a year, you were not really in command of the subject but you were able to work with it and improve as you went along and so on. But obviously you had to know the Russian language if you were going to work in this field.

I’ve had some people ask me now and then, “Okay, you studied Russian history. Did you know the Russian language?” Well, of course you had to know the Russian language or there was no way of doing it.

Emerging Russian Studies in the U.S. and the Role of the U.S. Government

Samuel Baron:

Prior to World War II, Russian studies were in their infancy or almost nonexistent in the United States. There were Russian language courses, Russian literature was a great literature and was fairly popular, Russian history, nothing. But with the emergence of Russia during World War II, as a superpower, the United States understood, it was very important to…we have to be dealing with that country, with that superpower, and we ought to know something about it. And so the federal government helped to establish new programs at Columbia University and at Harvard dedicated to Russian studies. And some other universities picked up on it by and by like Chicago and Berkeley and so on. And those of us who decided to go into this field imagined rightly, that this was going to be a very lively field. They would be places to jobs, whether in the government or at colleges and universities. And so we had a very interesting group of people who entered into the field there at Columbia.

Landing on George Plekhanov and Dr. Baron’s “Life Plan”

Samuel Baron:

You know. You had to have ample material to work with, and there was certainly plenty of it about this man. His collected works filled 24 volumes and there were other considerable collections too. And since little or nothing had been written about him outside of Russia, it looked to me like a good way to go. However, there might have been some other reasons why I went that way. There were… Of course we had a class and other people in the class were going to be doing stuff on Russian history. Some of them were quite content to do a subject that the professor suggested.

Doug Monroe:

Stern.

Samuel Baron:

I, evidently was unwilling to do that. And I… The Plekhanov thing kind of interested me because I was interested in having some kind of significant role in the society. I was a kind of leftish in my outlook. And so maybe Plekhanov’s life history had some kind of correspondence with my life plan.

More Comments on How Becoming Interested in Plekhanov

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Samuel Baron:

You had to have ample material to work with. And there was certainly plenty of it about this man. His collected works filled 24 volumes and there were other considerable collections too. And since little or nothing had been written about him outside of Russia, it looked to me like a good way to go. However, there might have been some other reasons why I went that way. They were … Of course we had a class and other people in the class were going to be doing stuff on Russian history. Some of them were quite content to do a subject that the professor suggested.

Doug Monroe:

Stern.

Samuel Baron:

I, evidently was unwilling to do that. And the Plekhanov thing interested me because I was interested in having some significant role in the society. I was leftish in my outlook. And so maybe Plekhanov’s life history had some correspondence with my life plan.

Who was George Plekhanov, and what did he accomplish in Russia?

Samuel Baron:

Well, Plekhanov was important because he was the one who introduced Marxist ideas to Russia. He and some friends started a group in 1883 that was the first Marxist revolutionary organization.

Who did Plekhanov influence? (Lenin and Trotsky) Who was right?

Samuel Baron:

Plekhanov was the key figure in the development of a Marxist movement in Russia for maybe a couple of decades. And in the course of that, people like Lenin and others, younger people who were coming up, were certainly very strongly influenced by him, although in time they would split. When the Russian Social Democratic Party split in 1903, Plekhanov was briefly aligned with Lenin. But then he broke away and they tended to be opposed much thereafter, and most of all in the revolution of 1905 and in the revolution of 1917 when Lenin and Trotsky were much better aligned with the spirit and the movement of the masses of the people than Plekhanov was. So they seemed to carry the day.

But Plekhanov’s position was that Russia was much too undeveloped to think about a socialist revolution. Yes, it was time to overthrow the Czars’ regime, the autocracy, but what you needed then was a kind of bourgeois democratic regime. And he warned that if we were to go the way that Lenin and Trotsky were talking about, there would be a great price to be paid. And you could think that price paid was Stalin, the collectivization of agriculture and the creation of a totalitarian regime. So Lenin and Trotsky, they were right in some way and Plekhanov was right in another way. Each grasped part of the truth, neither grasped the whole truth.

What was your most fulfilling life experience as an historian?

Samuel Baron:

Of course, I mentioned earlier that I became involved in the study of the life of this man Plekhanov. It took me a long time to complete that study. For my doctoral dissertation, I did a study of just a brief portion of his life. But after that, I decided it made sense to try to do a full-scale biography. Because I had a significant teaching load, and most especially because the sources were so voluminous, it took me 11 years to complete it. I actually was working under a professor who was very difficult to work under, which added to the matter, the problem.

But eventually the book came out, and it turned out to be a great success. That was certainly one of the most fulfilling things in my life. It got wonderful reviews. In time, it was translated into Spanish. It was translated into Japanese. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was even translated into Russian. Some of the Russian scholars, and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, praised the book very highly, Russians. One of them, the leading authority, said, “When Baron’s book first appeared, it was a revelation to Soviet historians.”

Being Blacklisted during the Age of McCarthyism

Samuel Baron:

Well, you know, I did my graduate work at Columbia. I got a PhD eventually. My first teaching job was at the University of Tennessee. I was supposed to be teaching Russian history there as well as Western civilization. I got into some trouble there. I was red-baited for such things as showing a film series that included shorts by Charlie Chaplin, who was thought to be a subversive and also a Russian film.

More than that, when I was teaching a course on Soviet Russia, I had the students read the Communist Manifesto and so there was investigation of the universities in Tennessee by a legislative committee. They gave, report was a clean bill of health but on the floor of the legislature, someone said, “This is all a whitewash,” and then proceeded to throw wild charges at me and some others.

After that, there was no question whatever of my getting tenure at the University of Tennessee, I had trouble finding a job because the rumor mills were spreading it around that this guy Baron was questionable character, and for three years, I was able to get only one year jobs replacing people who were on leave. One year, two year, three years. I was ready to quit and do something else when I got an invitation to Grinnell College for an interview and I got the job there. Grinnell College kept my career from being aborted.

“I had been a victim of McCarthyism.”

Samuel Baron:

That I had been a victim of McCarthy-ism.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Videographer:

Yeah, go ahead and say that-

Statement in Slightly Longer Form

Samuel Baron:

My experience at Tennessee was an illustration of my lot, which was to have been a victim of McCarthyism.

How to characterize the McCarthy era and its resolution?

Samuel Baron:

Yeah, there was paranoia. I mean, there was this other out there, and you could portray that other in any way you wanted to, to incite fear and suspicion and paranoia. And there was a good bit of it abroad. And I don’t know if you remember that McCarthy was brought down in good part eventually by a man named Joseph Welch, who was a lawyer for the military in an investigation that McCarthy was making. And he denounced McCarthy and helped bring him down. And not the least interesting thing about this was that Joseph Welch was a Grinnell College graduate.

Where did you have your most rewarding teaching experience?

Samuel Baron:

I mentioned earlier that I had more than fond feelings about Grinnell College. And in fact the best, the most rewarding teaching I ever did was there. I went from there to the University of California, to San Diego, and which was then a newer branch of the University of California. And from there, I came to UNC University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and each of them had its positives, but I must say that in terms of the reward of teaching Grinnell College still surpassed them. And it was because maybe it was partly in the corn fields. There wasn’t too much else for the students to do, but they attracted students. And there was an ethical quality about Grinnell College that went way back to before the civil war, when Grinnell College was a station on the underground railroad for fugitive slaves.

And there were other things along the way, Harry Hopkins was a very important figure in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. He was a Grinnell graduate and he came up with ideas that were around in the late 19th and early 20th century in about the social gospel that religion had to do, not just with ritual, not just with theology, but with how people lived their lives and how they felt about other people and what they were prepared to do for other people that was Harry Hopkins.

Asking the Question about Historical Stages: Words like “Capitalism” and “Socialism”

Videographer:

How about this. Do you feel like this is covered or should we go back and [crosstalk]-

Doug Monroe:

No, I’m curious just in the way Dr. Barron looks at this.

Videographer:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

When you look at some of the buzz words like, capitalism, welfare state, socialism, communism was always a common ideal and not, although it was tried to be implemented in a totalitarian way, how do you view looking at society yourself personally, in terms of any words or thoughts, in general? I don’t know how else to say it than that.

Samuel Baron:

Well-

Videographer:

Okay. Hold on.

Doug Monroe:

Is that a good question? I don’t know.

Samuel Baron:

Okay.

Videographer:

Yeah-

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Asking the Question on Historical Stages / Political-Economic Systems

Doug Monroe:

Do you think in terms of the historical stages of Marx or in terms of how you look at it or not, or both? I’m curious, in other words, would you slot this country into one of those categories in Europe and to another and maybe Scandinavian to another, or it’s kind of versus the sort of postmodernist view of, you know, history’s over and we have nothing else to learn?

Samuel Baron:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Answer to the Marxist Stages Question and Social Democracy

Samuel Baron:

Well, I certainly wouldn’t attempt to put the United States where it is into some scheme of Marxist stages of history. No, not at all. But you know, if I was to characterize my own political view, I would say that I’m a social democrat. And I think a country such as Germany today is a much better model than the United States is.

Doug Monroe:

Right.

Samuel Baron:

Whether it be easy for others to follow suit, hard to say.

What are the primary differences between the U.S. and German systems?

Samuel Baron:

If you look at the German system, they do have stronger unions and the regime has to take that into account and deal with it. And so you don’t have labor unrest, but you have people with socially secure lives, and that kind of thing is becoming more shaky in the United States.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic now about the U.S. and its place in the world?

Samuel Baron:

When I look out upon the world, or even just upon the United States, I see a picture that I find pretty grim. I think we have great problems and we don’t seem to know how to deal with them effectively. As far as the United States goes, we have, I think, a government that’s dysfunctional. The Congress seems to want to just block anything and everything that comes along. And I wonder how this looks to people around the world. The United States has always represented itself as the ideal democracy, “We’re the ones who have done it and you should follow our example.” Well, under the present circumstances, nobody’s much wanting to follow our example.

And in terms of foreign relations, the world picture is pretty discouraging. I think at the moment the Middle East is the center of attention. And I think that we have little or no influence there for a variety of reasons which I wouldn’t even try to go into. So I am fairly discouraged about the prospects, both at home and abroad.

Has there been a change in Congress?

Samuel Baron:

I would say that there’s been a quite a change, as opposed to earlier times when people on both sides of the aisle could talk to each other, could go out and have drinks with each other, could compromise on issues, instead of taking a black and white position on issues that are in… Make it impossible to get much done.

Congress and Its Low Approval Rating

Samuel Baron:

I think polls show that the population in general ranks the Congress at about 10% or 15% favorable in the population at large.

What is causing America’s political problems?

Samuel Baron:

I think there’s been a distinct shift to the right among politicians. It has been said that people like Ronald Reagan, maybe even Barry Goldwater, would not be admissible into the Republican Party nowadays.

No Compromising in Congress

Samuel Baron:

I think as recently as two or three decades ago, maybe more, it was possible for the different sides in Congress to get some things done, to work together. People could talk across the aisle. We’d go out and have drinks together and we’d compromise on issues. But the word compromise has gotten to be a dirty word to a lot of people there in Congress.

NC Legislature Repealing What is Socially Admirable

Samuel Baron:

I happen to live in a retirement community, and it’s an excellent community and it’s a very good place to be. And if one cuts oneself off completely from the outside world, one could be quite content, but if one is aware of what’s going on in the world, it can’t help but affect your outlook, and it does in a disturbing and kind of negative way. In our state, North Carolina, the state government, it’s kind of impossible to believe the things they’re trying to do now. Not just to repeal a whole new deal, but to repeal a lot of the things that have been happening for 60 or 70 years, and which made the society and the country admirable in lots of ways.

The Secrets to Living ’til You’re 92: Great Answer!

Samuel Baron:

That’s a question I’m asked a good deal. You don’t look like… When I tell people I’m 92 years old, they say, come on, you’re kidding, you couldn’t be 92 years old. And everyone wants to know, well, what’s the secret. I don’t know what the secret is, but I can tell you some things, which have been important in my life. I’m a constant exerciser, practically every day. And while I was teaching, likewise, I would have a long walk over to my class. Now I swim quite a bit, I hike quite a bit, and something practically every day. I’ve always been reasonable in regard to diet, never eating excessively.

I’m kind of aware of the rules of thumb, with regard to good diet, and I tend to follow those. I have generally, had a glass of wine or some such thing each day, but very rarely, if ever to excess. And, I think being intellectually engaged is very important. If there are interesting things in your life that not only enable you to get up in the morning, but have you getting up eagerly, because there are things to do that you want to do. And somewhat similar perhaps, I think having the term I like is, being connected to other people. That, to me, is extremely important. If one is isolated, it’s bad. But, if one is well connected to people with whom you have interests for to discuss and so on, that really adds great vigor to your existence. I think.

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Overview

Samuel Baron

Dr. Samuel H. Baron (1921-2017) was a Professor Emeritus of Russian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He focused his research career on the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Western influences on Muscovite Russia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He was interviewed because he was an expert in Marxism’s influence on Russian and Soviet history particularly, and European generally, and because he was a naturalist social democrat and great friend of Praxis Circle team going back to the 1970’s.
Transcript

How did you become interested in Russia?

Samuel Baron:

You know, as a matter of fact, my undergraduate study was at Cornell University and I was a major in botany. And I was assuming I would have a career in that field, then came World War II. I was in the army for four years and I think that had the effect of changing my mind and my direction. I was thinking that while I love the outdoors, I loved botanizing, being in nature and so forth, that I might be more effective or at least have a better chance of having some effect upon the world if I got into a study of societies and history and the like. And so I began to think how, where, what?

I ran into a man who was in the psychological warfare division in Europe at the time, in the American forces, of course. And he told me there was going to be a new institution created at Columbia University, a Russian Institute. Nothing of the kind had existed before World War II. So I looked into it and I decided I would do it. And I did it. And of course, if it were going to be studying Russia and Russian history, Marxism had to play a significant role in it. And I was looking for a possible subject to study, went through bibliographies and I saw there was an awful lot of material about this man. And at the same time, virtually nothing had been written about him outside of Russia. So this looked to be a good way to go and I went.

USSR as a Superpower and “Knowing Your Enemy”

Samuel Baron:

There were only two universities in the United States that had courses on Russian history before then. But what changed it all of course was the emergence of Russia as a superpower in the course of World War II. So, it was felt it was very important under the circumstances to, as some people put it crudely, to know your enemy.

And so the US government did a lot of financing to set up programs of that kind at Columbia and at Harvard and subsequently a few other schools, Chicago and Berkeley and so on came on board as well. And most of us who were students at the time didn’t know any Russian language so we had to start at the bottom and we at Columbia we took intensive courses in Russian language, 10 hours a week. And doing that for a year, you were not really in command of the subject but you were able to work with it and improve as you went along and so on. But obviously you had to know the Russian language if you were going to work in this field.

I’ve had some people ask me now and then, “Okay, you studied Russian history. Did you know the Russian language?” Well, of course you had to know the Russian language or there was no way of doing it.

Emerging Russian Studies in the U.S. and the Role of the U.S. Government

Samuel Baron:

Prior to World War II, Russian studies were in their infancy or almost nonexistent in the United States. There were Russian language courses, Russian literature was a great literature and was fairly popular, Russian history, nothing. But with the emergence of Russia during World War II, as a superpower, the United States understood, it was very important to…we have to be dealing with that country, with that superpower, and we ought to know something about it. And so the federal government helped to establish new programs at Columbia University and at Harvard dedicated to Russian studies. And some other universities picked up on it by and by like Chicago and Berkeley and so on. And those of us who decided to go into this field imagined rightly, that this was going to be a very lively field. They would be places to jobs, whether in the government or at colleges and universities. And so we had a very interesting group of people who entered into the field there at Columbia.

Landing on George Plekhanov and Dr. Baron’s “Life Plan”

Samuel Baron:

You know. You had to have ample material to work with, and there was certainly plenty of it about this man. His collected works filled 24 volumes and there were other considerable collections too. And since little or nothing had been written about him outside of Russia, it looked to me like a good way to go. However, there might have been some other reasons why I went that way. There were… Of course we had a class and other people in the class were going to be doing stuff on Russian history. Some of them were quite content to do a subject that the professor suggested.

Doug Monroe:

Stern.

Samuel Baron:

I, evidently was unwilling to do that. And I… The Plekhanov thing kind of interested me because I was interested in having some kind of significant role in the society. I was a kind of leftish in my outlook. And so maybe Plekhanov’s life history had some kind of correspondence with my life plan.

More Comments on How Becoming Interested in Plekhanov

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Samuel Baron:

You had to have ample material to work with. And there was certainly plenty of it about this man. His collected works filled 24 volumes and there were other considerable collections too. And since little or nothing had been written about him outside of Russia, it looked to me like a good way to go. However, there might have been some other reasons why I went that way. They were … Of course we had a class and other people in the class were going to be doing stuff on Russian history. Some of them were quite content to do a subject that the professor suggested.

Doug Monroe:

Stern.

Samuel Baron:

I, evidently was unwilling to do that. And the Plekhanov thing interested me because I was interested in having some significant role in the society. I was leftish in my outlook. And so maybe Plekhanov’s life history had some correspondence with my life plan.

Who was George Plekhanov, and what did he accomplish in Russia?

Samuel Baron:

Well, Plekhanov was important because he was the one who introduced Marxist ideas to Russia. He and some friends started a group in 1883 that was the first Marxist revolutionary organization.

Who did Plekhanov influence? (Lenin and Trotsky) Who was right?

Samuel Baron:

Plekhanov was the key figure in the development of a Marxist movement in Russia for maybe a couple of decades. And in the course of that, people like Lenin and others, younger people who were coming up, were certainly very strongly influenced by him, although in time they would split. When the Russian Social Democratic Party split in 1903, Plekhanov was briefly aligned with Lenin. But then he broke away and they tended to be opposed much thereafter, and most of all in the revolution of 1905 and in the revolution of 1917 when Lenin and Trotsky were much better aligned with the spirit and the movement of the masses of the people than Plekhanov was. So they seemed to carry the day.

But Plekhanov’s position was that Russia was much too undeveloped to think about a socialist revolution. Yes, it was time to overthrow the Czars’ regime, the autocracy, but what you needed then was a kind of bourgeois democratic regime. And he warned that if we were to go the way that Lenin and Trotsky were talking about, there would be a great price to be paid. And you could think that price paid was Stalin, the collectivization of agriculture and the creation of a totalitarian regime. So Lenin and Trotsky, they were right in some way and Plekhanov was right in another way. Each grasped part of the truth, neither grasped the whole truth.

What was your most fulfilling life experience as an historian?

Samuel Baron:

Of course, I mentioned earlier that I became involved in the study of the life of this man Plekhanov. It took me a long time to complete that study. For my doctoral dissertation, I did a study of just a brief portion of his life. But after that, I decided it made sense to try to do a full-scale biography. Because I had a significant teaching load, and most especially because the sources were so voluminous, it took me 11 years to complete it. I actually was working under a professor who was very difficult to work under, which added to the matter, the problem.

But eventually the book came out, and it turned out to be a great success. That was certainly one of the most fulfilling things in my life. It got wonderful reviews. In time, it was translated into Spanish. It was translated into Japanese. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was even translated into Russian. Some of the Russian scholars, and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, praised the book very highly, Russians. One of them, the leading authority, said, “When Baron’s book first appeared, it was a revelation to Soviet historians.”

Being Blacklisted during the Age of McCarthyism

Samuel Baron:

Well, you know, I did my graduate work at Columbia. I got a PhD eventually. My first teaching job was at the University of Tennessee. I was supposed to be teaching Russian history there as well as Western civilization. I got into some trouble there. I was red-baited for such things as showing a film series that included shorts by Charlie Chaplin, who was thought to be a subversive and also a Russian film.

More than that, when I was teaching a course on Soviet Russia, I had the students read the Communist Manifesto and so there was investigation of the universities in Tennessee by a legislative committee. They gave, report was a clean bill of health but on the floor of the legislature, someone said, “This is all a whitewash,” and then proceeded to throw wild charges at me and some others.

After that, there was no question whatever of my getting tenure at the University of Tennessee, I had trouble finding a job because the rumor mills were spreading it around that this guy Baron was questionable character, and for three years, I was able to get only one year jobs replacing people who were on leave. One year, two year, three years. I was ready to quit and do something else when I got an invitation to Grinnell College for an interview and I got the job there. Grinnell College kept my career from being aborted.

“I had been a victim of McCarthyism.”

Samuel Baron:

That I had been a victim of McCarthy-ism.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Videographer:

Yeah, go ahead and say that-

Statement in Slightly Longer Form

Samuel Baron:

My experience at Tennessee was an illustration of my lot, which was to have been a victim of McCarthyism.

How to characterize the McCarthy era and its resolution?

Samuel Baron:

Yeah, there was paranoia. I mean, there was this other out there, and you could portray that other in any way you wanted to, to incite fear and suspicion and paranoia. And there was a good bit of it abroad. And I don’t know if you remember that McCarthy was brought down in good part eventually by a man named Joseph Welch, who was a lawyer for the military in an investigation that McCarthy was making. And he denounced McCarthy and helped bring him down. And not the least interesting thing about this was that Joseph Welch was a Grinnell College graduate.

Where did you have your most rewarding teaching experience?

Samuel Baron:

I mentioned earlier that I had more than fond feelings about Grinnell College. And in fact the best, the most rewarding teaching I ever did was there. I went from there to the University of California, to San Diego, and which was then a newer branch of the University of California. And from there, I came to UNC University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and each of them had its positives, but I must say that in terms of the reward of teaching Grinnell College still surpassed them. And it was because maybe it was partly in the corn fields. There wasn’t too much else for the students to do, but they attracted students. And there was an ethical quality about Grinnell College that went way back to before the civil war, when Grinnell College was a station on the underground railroad for fugitive slaves.

And there were other things along the way, Harry Hopkins was a very important figure in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. He was a Grinnell graduate and he came up with ideas that were around in the late 19th and early 20th century in about the social gospel that religion had to do, not just with ritual, not just with theology, but with how people lived their lives and how they felt about other people and what they were prepared to do for other people that was Harry Hopkins.

Asking the Question about Historical Stages: Words like “Capitalism” and “Socialism”

Videographer:

How about this. Do you feel like this is covered or should we go back and [crosstalk]-

Doug Monroe:

No, I’m curious just in the way Dr. Barron looks at this.

Videographer:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

When you look at some of the buzz words like, capitalism, welfare state, socialism, communism was always a common ideal and not, although it was tried to be implemented in a totalitarian way, how do you view looking at society yourself personally, in terms of any words or thoughts, in general? I don’t know how else to say it than that.

Samuel Baron:

Well-

Videographer:

Okay. Hold on.

Doug Monroe:

Is that a good question? I don’t know.

Samuel Baron:

Okay.

Videographer:

Yeah-

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Asking the Question on Historical Stages / Political-Economic Systems

Doug Monroe:

Do you think in terms of the historical stages of Marx or in terms of how you look at it or not, or both? I’m curious, in other words, would you slot this country into one of those categories in Europe and to another and maybe Scandinavian to another, or it’s kind of versus the sort of postmodernist view of, you know, history’s over and we have nothing else to learn?

Samuel Baron:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Answer to the Marxist Stages Question and Social Democracy

Samuel Baron:

Well, I certainly wouldn’t attempt to put the United States where it is into some scheme of Marxist stages of history. No, not at all. But you know, if I was to characterize my own political view, I would say that I’m a social democrat. And I think a country such as Germany today is a much better model than the United States is.

Doug Monroe:

Right.

Samuel Baron:

Whether it be easy for others to follow suit, hard to say.

What are the primary differences between the U.S. and German systems?

Samuel Baron:

If you look at the German system, they do have stronger unions and the regime has to take that into account and deal with it. And so you don’t have labor unrest, but you have people with socially secure lives, and that kind of thing is becoming more shaky in the United States.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic now about the U.S. and its place in the world?

Samuel Baron:

When I look out upon the world, or even just upon the United States, I see a picture that I find pretty grim. I think we have great problems and we don’t seem to know how to deal with them effectively. As far as the United States goes, we have, I think, a government that’s dysfunctional. The Congress seems to want to just block anything and everything that comes along. And I wonder how this looks to people around the world. The United States has always represented itself as the ideal democracy, “We’re the ones who have done it and you should follow our example.” Well, under the present circumstances, nobody’s much wanting to follow our example.

And in terms of foreign relations, the world picture is pretty discouraging. I think at the moment the Middle East is the center of attention. And I think that we have little or no influence there for a variety of reasons which I wouldn’t even try to go into. So I am fairly discouraged about the prospects, both at home and abroad.

Has there been a change in Congress?

Samuel Baron:

I would say that there’s been a quite a change, as opposed to earlier times when people on both sides of the aisle could talk to each other, could go out and have drinks with each other, could compromise on issues, instead of taking a black and white position on issues that are in… Make it impossible to get much done.

Congress and Its Low Approval Rating

Samuel Baron:

I think polls show that the population in general ranks the Congress at about 10% or 15% favorable in the population at large.

What is causing America’s political problems?

Samuel Baron:

I think there’s been a distinct shift to the right among politicians. It has been said that people like Ronald Reagan, maybe even Barry Goldwater, would not be admissible into the Republican Party nowadays.

No Compromising in Congress

Samuel Baron:

I think as recently as two or three decades ago, maybe more, it was possible for the different sides in Congress to get some things done, to work together. People could talk across the aisle. We’d go out and have drinks together and we’d compromise on issues. But the word compromise has gotten to be a dirty word to a lot of people there in Congress.

NC Legislature Repealing What is Socially Admirable

Samuel Baron:

I happen to live in a retirement community, and it’s an excellent community and it’s a very good place to be. And if one cuts oneself off completely from the outside world, one could be quite content, but if one is aware of what’s going on in the world, it can’t help but affect your outlook, and it does in a disturbing and kind of negative way. In our state, North Carolina, the state government, it’s kind of impossible to believe the things they’re trying to do now. Not just to repeal a whole new deal, but to repeal a lot of the things that have been happening for 60 or 70 years, and which made the society and the country admirable in lots of ways.

The Secrets to Living ’til You’re 92: Great Answer!

Samuel Baron:

That’s a question I’m asked a good deal. You don’t look like… When I tell people I’m 92 years old, they say, come on, you’re kidding, you couldn’t be 92 years old. And everyone wants to know, well, what’s the secret. I don’t know what the secret is, but I can tell you some things, which have been important in my life. I’m a constant exerciser, practically every day. And while I was teaching, likewise, I would have a long walk over to my class. Now I swim quite a bit, I hike quite a bit, and something practically every day. I’ve always been reasonable in regard to diet, never eating excessively.

I’m kind of aware of the rules of thumb, with regard to good diet, and I tend to follow those. I have generally, had a glass of wine or some such thing each day, but very rarely, if ever to excess. And, I think being intellectually engaged is very important. If there are interesting things in your life that not only enable you to get up in the morning, but have you getting up eagerly, because there are things to do that you want to do. And somewhat similar perhaps, I think having the term I like is, being connected to other people. That, to me, is extremely important. If one is isolated, it’s bad. But, if one is well connected to people with whom you have interests for to discuss and so on, that really adds great vigor to your existence. I think.

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