[Marxism] Eric Alterman and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 9 13:58:37 MST 2004


Ordinarily, I wouldn't pay any attention to an Eric Alterman column, but 
his latest which is online at the Nation website 
(<http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041227&s=alterman>http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041227&s=alterman) 
deserves a word or two. It is basically a paean to John Kenneth Galbraith 
and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. I don't have any big gripes about the former. 
About the latter, I do.

Alterman: Mattson's invaluable new study, When America Was Great: The 
Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism, quotes Galbraith at a Congress of 
Cultural Freedom gathering in Milan in 1955, attacking intellectuals who 
treat their ideological constructs as reality. The goal for both men, as 
Mattson defines it, was a "tough-minded realism that saw intellect in 
service to the world of politics, a world of messy compromise and 
inevitable failures." This is not to argue that political involvement is 
the only appropriate role for intellectuals. Schlesinger, who remains 
almost the ideal example of the intellectual engagé, greatly admired 
Richard Hofstadter and Lionel Trilling, who always retained their 
detachment. At the same time, Mattson notes, he praised Murray Kempton for 
offering an "antidote to the danger that those with influence might take 
themselves too seriously."

Comment: I wonder what kind of expression came across Victor Navasky when 
he read this unblinking salute to this sleazy outfit funded by the CIA. 
When I get a moment or two nowadays, I dip into Frances Saunders Stonor's 
"Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War." In copious detail, 
it reveals the ways in which the Congress of Cultural Freedom served the 
cold-war aims of the USA. In 1949, Schlesinger wrote "The Vital Center: The 
Politics Of Freedom." This book served notice to the Communists in the USA 
that liberals would no longer treat them as members of the human race. This 
book, along with Harry Truman's introduction of a loyalty oath for 
government employees, signaled the beginning of McCarthyism. In the same 
way that Reaganism was initiated by a Democrat (Jimmy Carter), so was 
McCarthyism initiated by Democrats.

Alterman: Of course, both men made their share of mistakes, political and 
intellectual. But they were not the most costly kind, thanks to an 
unyielding commitment of both the economist and the historian to battling 
the effects of extremism of all stripes. A lifetime of loyalty to 
intellectual inquiry helped to infuse each man's career--both inside and 
outside the political arena--with an abiding respect for the difficulties 
involved in remaking men and women according to ideological precepts, as 
well as with a strong sense of modesty about just how much mere politics 
could accomplish. Galbraith once explained that he always sought "a measure 
of detachment. I've felt that one should hold some part of one's self in 
reserve, never be completely sure of being right." Schlesinger concurred, 
noting that "democratic politics, as Orwell has observed, permits the 
participant 'to keep part of yourself inviolate.'" Both men lived up to 
what Mattson identifies as the "classic tenet of the liberal state," which 
acknowledges "many limitations in its demands upon men, [while] the total 
state acknowledges none."

Comment: The notion of Schlesinger as respecting the "difficulties involved 
in remaking men and women according to ideological precepts" is nothing but 
a sick joke. As a member of Kennedy's cabinet, Schlesinger rejoiced over 
what was seen as the defeat of Communist "aggression" in 1962. The year 
before Schlesinger had become the delegate to the provisional 
counter-revolutionary government of Cuba, which the CIA had set up in the 
Everglades for export to Cuba after the invading brigade established its 
beachhead at the Bay of Pigs. If he heard that this was supposed to be an 
example of "democratic" politics, poor Orwell might be spinning in his 
grave. As bad as a redbaiter old Orwell was, he never reached these depths.

Alterman: At the event at the Plaza--organized by William vanden Heuvel in 
support of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, at Hyde 
Park--friends, family and admirers of all political persuasions paid 
tribute to the numerous moments in each man's life when their actions 
contributed to the common good by demonstrating the kind of toughness, both 
moral and intellectual, that liberals are perceived to lack today.

Comment: I don't know. John Kerry's vote for the Homeland Security Act 
should get him through the front door of an outfit devoted to the memory of 
somebody who threw Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.


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