[Marxism] Eric Alterman and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
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
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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