Joseph Epstein, Commentary, March 1971.
The Leonard Bernsteins’ evening with the Black Panthers was not an event parallel to the draining away of moral authority in the French monarchy under Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the last days of the ancien régime. Nor was it in any way comparable to the incursions of the Visigoths during the twilight of the Roman Empire. Although it may have called such episodes to mind for people with a heightened sense of history and a taste for the dissolution of civilizations, it of course represented nothing so grand. For the Bernsteins and their friends, if not exactly for the Panthers, it appeared to be just another night out, which, as would later become evident, was to prove part of the problem. If the evening’s historical significance was slight, culturally it provided an exquisite moment of lunacy: a crazy scramble of values that had Jews inviting acknowledged anti-Semites into their home, the flower of bourgeois society tippling with lumpen-revolutionaries, and a crowd of first-nighters gathered together for a glimpse of the Third World.