Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left
by Susan Braudy
A review by Alan Wolfe
At 9:30 a.m. on October 20, 1981, Kathy Boudin took her fourteen-month-old son
Chesa to his baby-sitter, while her husband, David Gilbert, waited in the car.
She planned, like any working mother, to pick up her child around 5 p.m. This
was not the most realistic of expectations. Kathy's main task for the day was
scheduled for 4 p.m. in Nyack, New York, about forty-five miles away. Even were
she to finish her work promptly, it would be impossible to drive back over the
Tappan Zee Bridge during rush hour, return the van that she was about to rent,
and hop on the subway, all within an hour. At the very best, Chesa would have
to be collected in the early evening.
But Chesa was never picked up by either of his parents that day. After dropping
off their child, Kathy and David drove to the Bronx, rented their truck, covered
the windows with contact paper, and crossed the river, where they met up with
their colleagues. Those colleagues were a group of hard-nosed criminals and
self-professed revolutionaries who had just robbed a Brinks truck and killed
Peter Paige, one of its guards. Four sacks containing $798,000 were thrown into
Kathy and David's truck; some of the robbers jumped in as well, and they began
to drive back toward the bridge, followed by another van containing another
$800,000 and the rest of the gang.
But their rendezvous had been spotted and the police had been alerted, so by
the time the group arrived at the entrance to the New York Thruway five minutes
later a roadblock had already been set up. The van was stopped, but at first
the police were not sure they had the right vehicle. (They were looking for
a van driven by blacks.) "Tell them to put the gun back," Kathy said
to one of the officers who had begun to question them, and so they did. Unarmed,
he and his colleague were sitting ducks for the bank robbers in the back of
the van, who jumped out shooting. Officer Waverly "Chipper" Brown
was killed immediately. Sergeant Edward O'Grady was killed while trying to reload
his gun. Kathy started to run, but she was caught by an off-duty parole officer.
In the confusion, David managed to drive away, but he was apprehended in Nyack
along with the driver of the other vehicle.
Chesa was still at his babysitter's apartment; his planned pick-up time was
almost precisely the moment when his parents were apprehended. Nine hours later,
at around 2 a.m., Kathy was allowed to make a phone call from jail. She rang
the home of William Kunstler, the radical lawyer, not the home of Ana Vasquez,
the babysitter. Kathy had not forgotten about her son; the next day she finally
reached Kunstler, who then called Kathy's father, and, together with their wives,
they immediately drove to Nyack. Meeting them in her cell, Kathy asked them
to pick up Chesa. It was now almost two full days after the bloody events. We
do not know from Susan Braudy's terse, tough-minded, honest, and thoroughly
absorbing book when and how Ana Vasquez was relieved of her charge. But we do
know that Kathy's parents, understanding that their daughter was likely to be
behind bars for some time, considered themselves too old to adopt her child.
"We'd never heard of Pampers," Kathy's mother said. "We didn't
know how to undo the stickum. The baby was crying." Kathy's fellow revolutionaries
Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers decided to adopt Chesa on the spot. Kathy, to
her dismay, learned that as a prisoner she had no right to see Chesa, and it
was not until January 1983, when he would have been twenty-nine months old,
that Kathy, recently transferred to a new prison, was finally allowed to touch
The events in which Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert participated left many painful
questions. How did a group of high-achieving kids find themselves in the midst
of such violence? By what processes of reasoning could intelligent people conclude
that criminals were revolutionaries? How could individuals who claimed to be
on the side of the working class participate in the murder of a local policeman?
In what ways is the search for racial equality advanced by removing the only
African American policeman in a town from his job, let alone from his life?
And to all these can be added the question that I have the hardest time understanding:
how could the parents of a baby drop the bundle of happiness off with a stranger
in order to choose death over life?
Few parents would have made the choice that Kathy Boudin made, but then few
of us have fathers who worked so assiduously to sleep with the people whom we
invited over to the house. Leonard Boudin, possessed of a famous name in Jewish
and radical circles his uncle Louis Boudin had been one of the founders of
the U.S. Socialist Party, a lawyer who defended radicals of one stripe or another,
and a scholar of Marxism impressed nearly everyone he met with his energy and
his intensity of commitment. Many of those impressions were tinged with sexuality.
Leonard seduced one of his daughter's friends (who happened also to be pregnant)
while she was staying in her room. When Kathy's brother Michael dated Constancia
Romilly the daughter of the progressive writer Jessica Mitford and the future
wife of the black activist James Forman the father intervened again, inviting
Dinky, as she was known, out for tennis dates before climbing into bed with
her. Leporello's aria would barely do justice to Leonard Boudin, since Don Giovanni,
at least in the opera, seduced only females. Leonard had no such inhibitions.
He had a youthful love affair with Paul Goodman, shared a mistress with Fidel
Castro, pursued (without success) Joan Baez, and was capable of leading a young
legal associate to bed during a dinner party while his wife, accused by one
person in the Boudin circle of pimping for her husband, looked the other way
Kathy's mother, as the dinner party incident suggests, had problems of her
own. Although Jean Roisman was not born wealthy, she found herself taken in
by the aristocratic Leof family, whose Rittenhouse Square mansion in Philadelphia
attracted prominent leftists (Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Earl Browder) and artists
(Franchot Tone, Luther and Stella Adler, Horace Pippin, Marc Blitzstein, Clifford
Odets). Jean's sister Esther, while in college at Penn, met and then married
Izzy Feinstein, who under the name I.F. Stone would become the most famous radical
journalist of his time. One member of the Leof circle, Bert Gross, who would
later help to draft the Employment Act of 1946 and still later author a quirky
book called Friendly Fascism, fell under the spell of the drop-dead gorgeous
Jean and had a brief affair with her, but, knowing that she was out of reach,
introduced her to Leonard Boudin, his high school classmate. Their marriage
lasted fifty-two years, until his death in 1989.
An odd marriage it was. In 1953, Jean, depressed in part because of Leonard's
numerous liaisons, tried to commit suicide, after which she underwent electroshock
therapy. Leonard's reaction was to propose marriage to another woman. (His reasoning
was that Jean had been unfaithful to him by trying to take her own life and
therefore he no longer even had to keep up the pretense of being faithful to
her). Rebuffed, Leonard welcomed Jean back, using her trauma to advance and
then to terminate when he tired of them his sexual conquests.
Braudy is not always reliable in her reporting; she gets a few names and affiliations
wrong. But even if half of what she says about the Boudins is true, and chances
are that a good deal more than that is, this was a family circle from hell.
Had Scott Fitzgerald been Jewish, he would have written about Leonard and Jean
Boudin. Fighters on behalf of the underprivileged, families such as the Boudins
and the Leofs lived lives of remarkable privilege themselves. (Anyone who has
ever seen The Cosby Show will recognize the fašade of the Manhattan brownstone
in which Kathy Boudin grew up.) After adopting Chesa, Kathy's friends from the
Weather Underground sent him to P.S. 9, attended mainly by blacks and Hispanics.
After all, no one of means, no matter how leftist their sympathies, sends kids
to public schools in Manhattan (Kathy attended the private Elisabeth Irwin High
School, whose affiliated elementary school is the Little Red School House).
Leonard exploded at the notion that Chesa would attend school with the unwashed.
"My grandson must attend a traditional school," he announced to Dohrn
and Ayers. "The little children are roughnecks and have no manners."
For Boudin, nothing was too good for the Boudins. The family life of the Boudins
was as marked by snobbery and competition as it was by sexuality and betrayal.
Some people thrive under such circumstances. Kathy's brother Michael did. At
Harvard College, where he was a first-rate student, Michael came under the spell
of Judge Learned Hand and eventually became a conservative, a Republican, a
lawyer, and a judge. But others found it harder to live up to such pressure including,
it would seem, Kathy. People were always praising her brother. Her cousin Celia
Stone had married a brilliant scientist (who would later win the Nobel Prize
in biology and become a founder of Genentech). And then there was her father,
a man capable of inviting one of Kathy's boyfriends for a swim for the purpose
of checking out the size of his genitals.
"It seemed to Kathy that everyone in the Boudin family had 'Harvard-approved'
stamped on their foreheads, except, of course, Kathy herself," writes Braudy.
This was an illusion: Leonard, for all his fame, had been rejected by City College
after high school (before his father pulled strings to get him in) and had attended
law school at the not terribly exclusive St. John's. Still, Kathy followed in
her father's footsteps. Unable to win acceptance to an Ivy League university,
she went to Bryn Mawr. (Braudy was one of her classmates.) "The Boudins
saw Bryn Mawr as Kathy's failure," Braudy remarks, a failure that would
only be exacerbated when Kathy was rejected by Yale Law School. Aside from being
a revolutionary, and not a very successful one at that, Kathy never had a career,
which was as close to a cardinal sin as one can commit in the circles in which
her parents traveled. (In prison, Kathy would earn her master's degree in education.)
"I'm so angry," Jean Boudin said during the pre-trial hearing for
the Brinks defendants. Her anger, needless to say, had nothing to do with the
taking of innocent life. "Why is Kathy doing this to us?" It is not
easy to find your own self when you have a mother as codependent as Jean and
a father as egomaniacal as Leonard. Braudy makes much of the narcissistic dysfunctionality
of the Boudin family. Since Leonard was the attorney defending radicals such
as Benjamin Spock and Daniel Ellsberg, Kathy if she were either to shine in
her father's eyes or to establish sufficient distance from his suffocating presence was
effectively disbarred from the practice of law. (She would briefly attend law
school at Case Western Reserve University.) More, Kathy also rejected the very
idea of law itself; her insurrectionary politics were intended as a repudiation
of her father's decision, as the language of the day put it, to work within
Thanks to the FBI, Braudy was able to listen to tapes of some of Kathy's conversations
with her father. Leonard tried to impress upon his daughter what a great man
he was for defending the antiwar activities of people such as Spock. Kathy would
have none of it. "Either admire me or get the fuck out of my way,"
she told her father. "I'm the one doing serious work, manning the barricades
in Chicago. I'm not interested in admiring your high jinks right now."
Leonard delivered his own rebuff in return, dismissing Kathy's radical actions
as "unserious pranks" and refusing to fly to Chicago to help his daughter
after the Weatherman-sponsored "Days of Rage." No wonder Kathy's first
call from prison was to Kunstler, her father's rival in the practice of radical
At least some of Kathy Boudin's rather odd choices in her life were the product
of the family circle in which she was raised. As Braudy's book makes abundantly
clear, the Boudin-style combination of economic privilege and leftist politics
is toxic. Wealth invariably gives those fortunate enough to possess it the sense
that society's rules are meant for others. What good is money if it does not
come with the ability to buy one's way out of the lines, inconveniences, and
obstacles that ordinary people come to expect? ("I'll pay you come the
revolution," Jean would tell bill collectors before hanging up on them.)
Leftist politics are supposed to counter this sense of entitlement, but they
often intensify it, especially in Manhattan. Persuaded that their causes are
just, their motives pure, and their deeds appreciated, radicals such as those
in the Boudin circle found an additional reason for assuming that the conventions
of everyday life simply did not apply to them. Leonard's sexual escapades were
not just the product of a man with an over-active libido. They were also the
expression of someone haughty enough to believe that he could do anything he
wanted and leftist enough to expect praise as his just reward.
Kathy never really rejected Leonard, for she, too, wanted to flout authority
and to win plaudits for doing so. Her sexual adventures were perfectly continuous
with those of her father; the Weathermen aimed to smash monogamy and went through
periodic binges during which everyone slept with everyone else, irrespective
of gender, before veering off into binges of chastity. (Leonard at least seemed
to enjoy his sexual freedom; Kathy's libertinism comes off as a duty.) And just
as Kathy broke the law, Leonard bent it to defend his clients. He was standing
next to Daniel Ellsberg, for example, while Ellsberg informed the FBI that he
was not the person who liberated the Pentagon Papers. If Leonard and Jean ever
sat down and told Kathy in no uncertain terms that the end does not justify
the means, especially when the means are violent, there is no record of it in
Braudy's grimly fascinating book. Instead Braudy writes that friends of the
family "wondered if Kathy and Michael were ever categorically refused anything" including,
one presumes, parental acquiescence in Kathy's political fantasies.
For this reason, it is hard to take seriously the cries of betrayal issued by
the Boudins at Kathy's increasingly radical actions. When Kathy entered a guilty
plea for the Brinks robbery, which Leonard had taken the lead in negotiating,
her father, Braudy tells us, "was wracked with alternating pain and fury:
Why had Kathy thrown away her life? Was it to ruin his reputation and life?"
Yet Leonard must have understood how faithful Kathy had been to his life and
his work. Growing up in his household, she had learned that radicals were superior
people, and she had carried herself like one ever since. Kathy's generation
was frequently taken to denouncing "white skin privilege." How convenient
for Kathy to include among the privileged everyone who shared her complexion,
thereby allowing her (and maybe even them) to ignore the extra privileges that
she enjoyed owing to her comfortable lifestyle and her do-no-wrong politics.
Struggle though she might, Kathy would always be Leonard's daughter, adopting
his old left sensibilities to new left strategies.
Not all of the rebels were red-diaper babies, but Kathy's diaper was the reddest
of them all. Following the Freudian script with unerring accuracy, the radicals
of the 1960s and 1970s called themselves a "new" left to pronounce
dead the musty Stalinism of their parents. In reality, matters would prove more
complicated. Unwilling to ally themselves with what they perceived as the unbending
anti-Communism of American politics, new leftists often kept their criticisms
of the Communist Party to themselves, and as the war in Vietnam escalated and
their anger increased, they began making common cause with an earlier generation
of Communists who, in their eyes, came to seem heroic.
For a Boudin, the question of what to do about the old left must have been
particularly awkward. Braudy asks us to imagine what it must have been like
to be a student at Elisabeth Irwin, whose graduating class each year sent ever
newer recruits such as Kathy and her classmate Angela Davis into leftist causes,
and in addition to be known as the daughter of the lawyer who represented Fidel
Castro and the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, especially when one of those
sons, Michael Meeropol, was teaching Kathy to play the guitar. Those who stood
in awe of Kathy's leftist pedigree were unlikely to know that Leonard, who had
advised his clients not to cooperate with investigatory committees by refusing
to answer whether or not they had been in the Communist Party, himself had answered
the question under investigation. (It turns out that he had never joined the
party and therefore did not have to provide the names of others who did.) Nor
were they likely to realize that, although Leonard had defended the Rosenberg
children in their custody fight, he had in fact turned down Julius Rosenberg's
request to be his lawyer. (Boudin probably realized that the Communist Party
wanted the Rosenbergs to be executed, the better to make them martyrs, and he
was not about to be on the losing side of a famous case.)
Although the world may not have known of Leonard's ambivalent relationship
with the old left, Jean and Kathy Boudin did, and they castigated him for it.
"You took Judy Coplon instead of the Rosenbergs because she was so pretty
and so famous," Kathy would say to her father, and she was most likely
right. Judith Coplon's was one of the first great trials of what we now call
the McCarthy period. Coplon had been a Justice Department clerk who was charged
with stealing government documents and passing them on to the Soviet Union.
Boudin won her freedom on appeal by discovering that the evidence against her
had been collected illegally by the FBI. Yet for Kathy such victories, however
important, could not bring Michael Meeropol's parents back to life. Braudy speculates without
evidence, but quite plausibly that Kathy chose the next best thing: she would
put herself in the shoes of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg by making herself a martyr
for the cause.
It is not that Kathy wanted to be caught and put on trial; she and her Weathermen
friends took pains to change their identities and to cover their tracks. Still,
their ability to escape the authorities may have had more to do with the latter's
incompetence and indifference than the revolutionaries realized. Kathy and her
friends took unnecessary risks, such as speeding, that could easily have resulted
in their capture. They cooperated with radical film-makers, evidently unwilling,
despite their life on the run, to be out of the limelight. There was the decision reached,
it would seem, collectively to have children, which is not the thing to do
if you have to lam out of town quickly. Kathy herself maintained contact with
her parents, the kind of communication that an FBI more interested in catching
terrorists than protecting its bureaucratic turf would have been monitoring.
And then there was the last desperate act, a robbery and a murder so badly planned
and so ineptly executed that capture was all but inevitable.
There was one way in which Kathy certainly did act like the Rosenbergs: they
abandoned their children for their cause, as she abandoned her child. But in
another way Kathy must have thought she had outdone them. Julius had passed
secrets to a county that was, at the time, one of our allies, one can imagine
her thinking. She, by comparison, found herself in the house in Greenwich Village
when one of her bomb-making comrades blew it to bits, and helped to liberate
Timothy Leary from a minimum security prison in California (only to have Leary
squeal on them a year later), and planned and carried out some twenty bombings
(including one in a Pentagon bathroom) and participated in numerous robberies,
and assisted in the prison break of the black radical Joanne Chesimard and
all this in addition to the three lives taken at Nyack. Not for Kathy and her
circle the meekness of old leftists who quietly accepted their fate.
Kathy's Rosenberg complex was understood by Rita Jensen, with whom she had
shared a co-op apartment on Manhattan's Morningside Drive. Kathy asked Rita
to refuse to cooperate with the grand jury investigation into Kathy's crimes.
One of the few people in this saga who actually chose to protect her children
rather than give them up for the cause, Rita spurned Kathy's plea and accused
her friend of trying to follow in the Rosenbergs' footsteps. The same comparison
occurred to David Gilbert, although he took a quite different course of action.
Leonard asked David to mitigate Kathy's punishment by claiming that she and
David had been manipulated by the criminals who carried out the robbery. Julius
Rosenberg had refused to cooperate with the government that had put him and
his wife on trial by not testifying to his wife's innocence, even though by
so doing he effectively condemned her to death, and David thought Julius had
done the right thing; when he was offered the opportunity to sacrifice others
(and himself) for principle, he did not resist. He chose not to turn his back
on his militant co-defendants, and as a result Kathy had no choice but to plead
guilty. The best that Leonard could negotiate on her behalf was twenty years
to life. Whether David Gilbert ever figured into his calculations the effects
of his actions on his wife and his son is known only to him.
"I hate you, I hate you for leaving me behind and for getting in jail,"
Chesa informed his mother on one of his visits to Bedford Hills. Braudy writes
that he was "a violent, troubled boy." It is not difficult to understand
why he beat his head against walls and was diagnosed as autistic by specialists.
His mother had abandoned him and his father had chosen gang solidarity over
parental love. Chesa must also have been aware of the jealous rivalry between
his birth mother and his adopted mother. "It is not right that Chesa be
raised by Bill & Bernardine with all decisions made by them," Kathy
wrote to her father. But Kathy was in prison and Bernardine was free, and so
it is not surprising who prevailed in this struggle; Chesa's adoptive parents
moved him to Chicago, and out of Kathy's reach. According to Braudy, the move
was crucial to his ability to get his life together.
Kathy Boudin had been a precocious youngster. In 1960, when she was seventeen,
her radical political activities were featured in articles in the New York
Times and the London Daily Mail. How appropriate, then, that Chesa,
now a college senior, would be the subject of a profile in the New York Times
in December 2002, after he won a Rhodes scholarship. "When I was younger,
I was angry," he told Jodi Wilgoren, the Times reporter. "Now,
I'm not angry. I'm sad that my parents have to suffer what they have to suffer
on a daily basis, that millions of other people have to suffer as well."
Held under maximum-security conditions, Chesa's birth parents were unavailable
for interviews. But Chesa had four parents, and his adopted ones were only too
happy to prattle to the newspaper. "Cecil Rhodes, I don't know what he
would think if he were alive today; he'd probably be horrified," Bernardine
Dohrn chipped in. "You know what I love about listening to Chesa?"
Bill Ayers asked. "He confirms the natural cycle that your kids are always
so much smarter and better than you are."
There is no gainsaying Chesa's success in overcoming the anger induced by his
separation from his parents; but a rags-to-riches story this is not. Chesa,
in fact, inherited the Boudin advantage. There is, first of all, his talismanic
name: Chesa Jackson Boudin, each portion of which was carefully chosen. "Chesa,"
Swahili for dancer, was meant to celebrate the baby's feet-first birth and his
links to the Afrocentric black revolutionaries whom his parents admired. (Their
leader, Jeral Wayne Williams, called himself Doc Mutulu Shakur, and his stepson
Tupac would later die a famous and violent death.) Chesa's middle name, honored
George Jackson, who had been killed trying to shoot his way out of prison. And
his last name came not from the undistinguished Gilbert side of his parental
heritage, but from the illustrious Boudin side. It was as if the application
to Yale was being written the day the baby's names were chosen. It seems somehow
typical of the Boudin charm that by the time Chesa applied to college, Ivy League
schools had decided to reject huge numbers of straight-A students in favor of
youngsters who seemed interesting, and there could have been no child in America
more interesting to all those 1960s radicals turned academic administrators
than Chesa. A century and a quarter after Louis Boudinovitch was born in Russia,
his name, shortened and transliterated into English, could open doors in America
that had been closed to the Jews of his era.
Chesa also shared the self-centeredness of the Boudin clan. His concern for
the world's victims never seemed to extend to the victims of his mother's actions.
"I haven't talked to my father in twenty years," the orphaned Kim
O'Grady commented when she read Chesa's account of how difficult it had been
for him to inform his parents of his good fortune. And when Chesa had the gall
to advise the families of the men his mother had helped kill to get over it
"I also was a victim of that crime. I know how important it was for
me to forgive" it was as if Leonard and Jean had come back to life.
Where else but in the world of the aristocratic left is it possible to equate
the sufferings of nine fatherless children with the tribulations of being a
Not for Chesa, moreover, the decision of his uncle Michael to find his own
understanding of how things work. The young man's politics are all one would
expect from the red-diaper baby of a red-diaper baby. "I don't know much
about my parents' tactics," Chesa informed Wilgoren. "I'll talk about
my tactics." His denial of what his parents were really up to is about
as credible as his mother's statement to the New York parole board that the
money obtained in the Brinks robbery was going to be used for health clinics
and recreation facilities in black neighborhoods. Of course Chesa knows all
about his parents' tactics: why else would they have been in jail? At less guarded
moments, Chesa wants the world to know that just as his mother's politics followed
from her father's politics, his politics would follow from the politics of his
mother and his father and Bernardine and Bill. "My parents were all dedicated
to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world," he said of the four of
them. "I'm dedicated to the same thing."
Chesa, though, differs in one significant way from his parents. For all her
sense of superiority, Kathy was anything but upwardly mobile: from brownstone
to Bedford Hills is not the usual course of upward mobility in America. But
even at his tender age Chesa understands how to use leftist politics to get
ahead in the world. "As a child, I relished my personal freedom and tried
to compensate for my parents' imprisonment," he wrote in his application
for a Marshall scholarship, on the off chance that the folks in England did
not know who his parents were. "Now, I see prisons around the world: urban
misery in Bolivia, homelessness in Santiago and illiteracy in Guatemala."
It worked. Chesa got the Marshall, only to turn it down after he got the Rhodes.
So a new Boudin has appeared to defeat imperialism, and this returns us to
the question of why Kathy and her friends decided to fight imperialism by linking
themselves so completely with violence. Their actions can never be excused or
explained away; other people were equally as freaked out by the Vietnam War
or the urban riots without resorting to armed attack. There is no denying, of
course, that many were pushed to the limit by America in the 1960s; I found
myself in Washington in 1969 in the streets in front of the Department of Justice
Kathy, David, and Bernardine, dressed in helmets, were there, too swallowing
tear gas as the wife of the attorney general, watching from the balcony, compared
us to the Russian revolutionaries. Since then, some of my generation have had
second thoughts about the Vietnam War; they now believe that we really did need
to stop Communist expansion, and Vietnam was as good a place as any to do it.
I do not share those sentiments; the lies that my government told and the untold
number of deaths that its ideological blindness caused are still capable of
arousing my fury. Now another administration has told lies in another war, even
if it is a more defensible one, and it is not hard to imagine a scenario in
which an even newer left will turn in frustration to new days of rage, just
as it is not impossible to foresee a beleaguered administration delighted to
have domestic radicals whom it can blame for America's difficulties. Chesa Boudin,
in other words, may find himself in a situation not unlike the situation of
his parents when they were his age. And Kathy Boudin, who was released by the
parole board this past summer, will soon have the opportunity to give her son
the benefit of her motherly advice. (The more unyielding David Gilbert, sentenced
to seventy-five years, may never see freedom.) One can only wonder what she
will tell him.
Will she tell him that however angry President Bush's policies make him, he
should never play with dynamite? Will she inform him that even victims can be
criminals? Will she teach him the difference between narcissism and compassion?
Most important of all, will she, when he has children of his own, urge him to
put the well-being of her grandchildren before everything else, and in that
way learn that because other parents also love their children, violent means
can rarely justify self-certain ends?
Kathy Boudin should know all these things by now; she has certainly had time
to reflect on them. But for her to pass on such wisdom, she will have to reject,
and to instruct her son to reject, the legacy of the Boudin clan. Susan Braudy's
book provides genuine insight into how truly disgraceful that legacy has been.
In a more innocent age, we judged people and the movements to which they belonged
by how they responded to the large public questions of the day. The Popular
Front politics of Leonard Boudin's time wound up on the wrong side of nearly
all of those public questions. It mistook Stalin's totalitarianism for social
justice. It manipulated its friends and deceived its enemies. It failed the
true radicals of the postwar period, those who risked their lives to overthrow
communism where it had entrenched itself. It coarsened the culture. Had it ever
achieved power fortunately the old left never became as powerful as the new
right insisted that it did the country would have been far worse off.
Kathy Boudin's generation my generation held that the personal was political.
The result was a loss of innocence, devastating in its consequences. For now
we judge the people and the movements to which they belong by private criteria
as well as by public ones. We examine their motives as well as their objectives,
their psychology as well as their politics, their fantasies as well as their
five-year plans. Although Braudy offers particulars about this awful family
that we may not want to know, we know them now, and knowing them we have additional
reasons to breathe a sigh of relief that the Boudins, father and daughter, never
got the revolution that they craved. People who cannot control themselves should
never be permitted to control others.
Alan Wolfe is
a contributing editor at TNR.
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