| By MALCOLM G. SCULLY |
In less than a month, Charles A. Reich has gone from being a 42-year-old professor of law at Yale University to a prophet for the nation’s youth.
The change has been brought about by the publication of Mr. Reich’s book The Greening of America, first in condensed form in The New Yorker in late September, and in its entirety by Random House late last month.
In The Greening of America, Mr. Reich indicts American society for having become a monolithic state with artificial values of consumption and success, and he predicts that young people, who have a “new consciousness,” will restore humanity to the nation’s mindless, mad institutions.
The reaction began immediately after the article appeared in The New Yorker and has been increasing ever since. The response at the magazine has been compared to that accorded Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and John Hersey’s Hiroshima.
For several weeks after the article appeared, the magazine received more than 200 telephone calls a day from people requesting copies. Hoyt Spelman of the magazine’s advertising staff estimated that it would be weeks before the thousands of letters were sorted out.
The book was sold out within hours at many campus bookstores. It went into its fifth printing at Random House less than two weeks after it was published. After a first printing of 5,000 copies, the number of each printing was raised so that 75,000 copies had been published by the end of the fifth printing.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a spokesman for the publishing house. “There are some books which we know from the start will be best-sellers, but this has come as a complete surprise.”
Mr. Reich approached Random House with an outline of the book and received a quick positive response to it from editor John J. Simon. The completed manuscript was submitted to The New Yorker, where editor-in-chief William Shawn accepted it for publication.
Observers attribute the phenomenal success of The Greening of America both to the vast pre-publication publicity it received -- The New York Times has had at least seven articles on it -- and to Mr. Reich’s ability to pull together a series of ideas abroad in the land into one sweeping theory about today’s society.
Robert Bingham, the editor at The New Yorker who worked with Mr. Reich on the condensation, said the law professor “had just pressed a button that was waiting to be pressed. It is not just an idea whose time had come, but a whole set of ideas that the young people had been acting on but had never stated clearly.”
John Kenneth Galbraith, whose analysis of the “new industrial state” parallels Mr. Reich’s analysis of the corporate state, said somewhat the same thing in a letter to Mr. Reich. Mr. Galbraith wrote that Mr. Reich had said what he (Galbraith) had been trying to say all along.
“It’s no surprise to me that everybody now feels they wrote the book,” says Mr. Reich. “Every observation in it other people could have made and did. It’s everybody’s book.”
Despite that description of universal authorship, the book has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm.
The extent of the comment has been enormous. Virtually every major daily newspaper in the country either has editorialized about it or printed the opinions of syndicated columnists. The weekly newsmagazines have reviewed it. Advertising Age, Home Furnishings Daily, and Fortune have criticized it.
The criticisms have ranged from gentle gibes at Mr. Reich’s wholehearted endorsement of the clothes and music of the young to bitter attacks on him as being both anti-intellectual and anti-democratic.
The reviewer for The New York Times, who was generally favorable, called Mr. Reich youth culture’s “very own Norman Vincent Peale.”
Columnist Stewart Alsop in Newsweek called the book a “bag of scary mush” that has “obvious Fascist overtones.”
States of Consciousness
Regardless of the responses Mr. Reich provokes, however, his book and his theories are sure to be the topic of intense discussion across the nation.
His division of society into three states of consciousness -- those nostalgic for the simpler past, those wrapped up in the values of the corporate state, and those in tune with the aspirations of the young -- is ready-made for cocktail party repartee.
In the meantime, at Yale, Mr. Reich admits that publication of the article and the book “seems to be violently changing my life.”
He joined the faculty at Yale in 1960 as a specialist in public law and property law. Prior to that he had served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, and as a member of two law firms in Washington, D.C.
He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1949 and was graduated from Yale law school in 1952.
At Yale, Mr. Reich currently teaches one of the most popular undergraduate courses, “The Individual in America.”
In 1967, he reports, he had a vision of significance of the new life-styles of his undergraduate students, and what impact it would have on the future.
“I felt that until people got this vision they’d go on feeling the country was going to hell,” he said.
The critics disagree over which way leads to hell -- the existing system, as Mr. Reich believes, or the revolution of consciousness that he sees as the escape.