Celebrity Culture: Charles Reich, who saw ‘The Greening of America,’ 91

Celebrity Culture: Charles Reich, who saw ‘The Greening of America,’ 91

Celebrity Culture:

That article was cited in 1970 in a landmark US Supreme Court decision, which broadened the definition of property rights to include licenses, contracts, and welfare benefits.

That same year, as the rebellious fervor of the 1960s appeared to be peaking, The New Yorker published a 39,000-word excerpt from “The Greening of America,” giving flower children a powerful intellectual rationale and their worried parents a measure of comfort by casting the younger generation’s values, built on personal happiness instead of material success, as constructive and benign.

The excerpt, and the subsequent best-selling book, gave Mr. Reich a kind of rock-star celebrity. “The Greening of America” entered the canon of sociological megahits published in 1970, alongside Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” and Philip Slater’s “The Pursuit of Loneliness.” But while Mr. Reich’s fame spilled beyond the Yale campus, even spawning a character based on him in the comic strip “Doonesbury,” many critics saw his sermonizing as naïve and sentimental.

The New Yorker excerpt portentously began: “There is a revolution underway — not like revolutions of the past. This is the revolution of a new generation. It has originated with the individual and with culture, and if it succeeds it will change the political structure only as its final act.”

Mr. Reich traced the metamorphosis of American society through three levels of consciousness: Consciousness I, the nation’s early self-reliance; Consciousness II, the conformism of the New Deal era; and Consciousness III, an unshackling from the stifling moral constraints of the 1950s, focusing on spiritual fulfillment.

“The extraordinary thing about this new consciousness,” he wrote, “is that it has emerged from the machine-made environment of the corporate state, like flowers pushing up through a concrete pavement.”

He added, “For those who thought the world was irretrievably encased in metal and plastic and sterile stone, it seems a veritable greening of America.”

Charles Alan Reich was born on May 20, 1928, in Manhattan to Dr. Carl and Eleanor (Lesinsky) Reich. His father was a hematologist — Mr. Reich later said he had learned his father’s diagnostic techniques and applied them to the law — and his mother was a school administrator. The parents later divorced.

Charles and his brother, Peter, attended City and Country School in Greenwich Village and the Lincoln School of Teachers College. (Peter died in 2013.)

Although he was born and bred in the city, Mr. Reich craved the outdoors. He hiked 45 of the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks.

“Rather than complete the set,” Judith Resnik, founding director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale, said in an e-mail, “he thought it would be better to imagine what the 46th looked like.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Oberlin College in Ohio and graduating from Yale Law School, he clerked for Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court and worked at law firms before returning to Yale in 1960 to teach. His students included Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham.

Early in his tenure as an assistant professor, “Charles was compelled to teach a course in property law, a subject about which he felt almost completely uninformed,” his friend, J. Anthony Kline, a friend who is now the senior presiding justice of the California Court of Appeal, recalled.

Mr. Reich reasoned that if a statutory entitlement, such as welfare benefits, was considered property, it was entitled to greater legal protection, Kline said, thereby advancing “an unconventional idea in a legally conventional and persuasive way.”

As a result, the Supreme Court ruled in Goldberg v. Kelly in 1970 that welfare recipients suspected of fraud in New York were entitled to an evidentiary hearing before they could be deprived of benefits.

Mr. Reich left Yale in 1974. “‘The Greening of America’ did me in as far as academe was concern

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