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SOURCE: Nation ()
Is patriotism a positive political force? In much of the world, the answer is no or a highly qualified maybe. In Britain, English patriotism verges on the comical (see the collected works of Rowan Atkinson for more details), while the United Kingdom, an array of feudal fiefdoms stretching from the Channel to the North Sea, is far too antiquated a structure to stir up much patriotic passion in anyone other than a far-rightist. Does the average cockney's heart beat faster when contemplating the offshore bankers of Jersey or the noble fishermen of Shetland pressuring Brussels for more favorable cod quotas? Don't make us larf!
In France, la patrie is a political concept, meaning that one's view of it is a direct function of one's place on the left-right spectrum. If you're a Gaullist you may have some lingering attachment to la France profonde; if you're a liberal, you want to see it subsumed under the EU, while if you're among the 10 percent of the electorate that voted Trotskyist in the 2002 presidential elections, the very word smacks of Pétainism and the reactionary "integral" nationalism of Charles Maurras. In Germany, patriotism is controversial due to certain nationalist excesses of the mid-twentieth century, while in Italy it exists only on a local level. In Canada, no one quite knows what it means, for the simple reason that no one quite knows what Canada means other than that part of North America that looks like the United States but doesn't believe in capital punishment, mass incarceration or the virtues of maintaining military bases in more than a hundred foreign countries.
Only in the United States does patriotism, among both liberals and conservatives, elicit an unqualified yes. Perhaps the most important reason has to do with the role of voluntarism in American constitutional thought. Despite being bound to the United States by countless laws and regulations, Americans cling to a concept of citizenship as a matter of choice. They are not Americans because they were born here or because economic necessity forced them to immigrate, supposedly, but because they want to be. Since the United States is not so much a nation as a calling, anyone wishing to participate in the American polity must make his or her loyalties clear. This is why politicians will launch into the most amazing bombast on a moment's notice about the United States being "the best country ever created and still, as ever, the hope of humankind" (to quote the hapless Al Gore in August 2000). The more they want the people's vote, the more they must trumpet their devotion. If patriotism is an unalloyed good, then more patriotism is better, while ultra-patriotism, the kind that equates the nation with the will of God, is best of all.
In his new book The Intellectuals and the Flag, Todd Gitlin uses patriotism to wallop the radical left, which he cannot forgive for being right about the direction of US military policy after 9/11, when he and other liberal intellectuals gathered around Dissent magazine were almost completely wrong. Living a mile north of the World Trade Center, Gitlin--a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, author of a well-known chronicle of 1960s radicalism (The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage) and a member of the Dissent editorial board--got a stiff dose of patriotism as he watched the Twin Towers disintegrate in a cloud of smoke and debris. Overcome with emotion, he wandered downtown a few days later and joined a crowd of onlookers applauding dust-covered rescue workers emerging from the blast site.
"In those awful days," Gitlin informs us, "I found people--and a people to whom I belonged." Overcome with a feeling of oneness with all those shocked and horrified people in the street, he put up the Stars and Stripes to show where his sympathies lay. A few days later, when New York Times Metro columnist Clyde Haberman called seeking a comment about the American flags sprouting up all over the city, he mentioned that he happened to have one hanging from his apartment terrace. Haberman's article made Gitlin into a minor patriotic hero.
But although Gitlin assumes in The Intellectuals and the Flag that it was natural to feel solidarity on that occasion on the basis of a common American identity, he could have felt solidarity on any number of bases--as a New Yorker, as a human being, as a secularist or as an anti-imperialist, to name just a few. Each mode implies a different form of politics, a different way of looking at the problem, and hence a different way of thinking about how to respond. The first, for example, might very well imply solidarity not only vis-à-vis Al Qaeda but vis-à-vis Texas oilmen whose view of compact, energy-efficient cities like New York is not much more benign. The second implies an ethical stance against the needless taking of human life by any actor in the conflict, while the third implies a condemnation of religious fanaticism in general, Muslim, Christian or Jewish. The fourth would almost certainly lead, among other things, to demands that Washington come clean about its dealings with militant fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, not to mention Israel and the American Bible Belt.
Instead, Gitlin responded as an American. Lots of other people in those fateful days did as well: Considering that Osama bin Laden had attacked Americans qua Americans, they found it difficult not to respond in kind. Nonetheless, responding as an American meant seeing 9/11 in essentially nationalist terms as a case of turbanned foreigners visiting evil on an innocent United States. When Katha Pollitt published a column in this magazine saying she would not fly the flag because it "stands for jingoism and vengeance and war," he was therefore incensed. He fired back with an article in Mother Jones accusing certain unnamed leftists of "smugness, acrimony, even schadenfreude"--an especially incendiary charge in those super-heated times, since it implied that Pollitt and her co-thinkers derived pleasure from the suffering around them. After finishing with them, Gitlin attacked Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said for statements he regarded as foolish or disloyal, and then rounded on Indian novelist Arundhati Roy for daring to suggest that Osama bin Laden was Bush's "dark doppelgänger" and that "the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable." Today, with postinvasion deaths in Iraq outnumbering those in Lower Manhattan by better than thirty to one, Roy's sentiments seem positively mild. Yet for Gitlin they were indicative of "a prejudice invulnerable to moral distinctions" because, presumably, they failed to recognize that Al Qaeda is fundamentally evil, while America, of course, is fundamentally good.
Still, it could have been worse. Around the same time that Gitlin was sounding off in Mother Jones, Dissent editor Michael Walzer published an article in that magazine (which Gitlin approvingly cites here) not only echoing the charge of schadenfreude but accusing the left of sympathizing with Al Qaeda on the grounds that "any group that attacks the imperial power must be a representative of the oppressed, and its agenda must be the agenda of the left." National Security Administration wiretappers take note: Not only were leftists reveling in the bloodshed, they were plainly hoping for more.
With The Intellectuals and the Flag, Gitlin revisits the old battlefield, toning down his rhetoric somewhat but otherwise expanding on the theme that radicals must learn to love the flag and embrace patriotism if they wish to be effective. The first thing to be said about The Intellectuals and the Flag, a grab bag of essays touching on everything from postmodernism and cultural studies to the role of the universities in fostering intelligent political debate, is that it is a very bad book--badly written, badly argued and studded with non sequiturs and intellectual clichés. The second thing is that it is one of those bad books that nonetheless touch upon an important topic, even if it is a bit more complicated than the author apparently realizes.
As Gitlin sees it, leftists come in two varieties, the loyal kind and the more radical sort typified by his bêtes noires Chomsky and Said. The first group tries to understand America; when it criticizes America, it does so, more in sorrow than in anger, from within as a loyal member of the moral community. The second, on the other hand, is exclusively negative, carping and complaining about nearly everything America does, no matter how justified or well intended. When America tries to defend itself or use its power to prevent some grievous abuse abroad, the only thing the radicals can say, according to Gitlin, is that "the Empire Is Striking Back." As he puts it: "In their eyes Bill Clinton's interventions in behalf of the rights of Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims were as wicked as any and all other interventions." Since everything America does is wicked, then America, from their perspective, must be wicked itself.
Never mind that Chomsky is actually a critical patriot who is on record as declaring that the United States is "the best country in the world" or that Said, rather than a leftist, was an old-fashioned liberal who happened to champion a national movement the pro-Israel editors at Dissent do not much like. With his ideology of "for us or against us," Gitlin is impervious to such fine points. As he sees it, leftists have two choices: They can turn their backs on the United States on the grounds that it is hopelessly reactionary or pledge allegiance to the United States so as to become bona fide members of the American polity and work from within. "Democratic patriotism," he says, does not mean mindless genuflection but recognition that the United States is complex and multihued, continually washed over by powerful crosscurrents from both the left and the right. Instead of condemning American power in toto, he maintains that leftists should "acknowledge--and wrestle with--the dualities of America: the liberty and arrogance twinned, the bullying and tolerance, myopia and energy, standardization and variety, ignorance and inventiveness, the awful dark heart of darkness and the self-reforming zeal." One senses that Gitlin could go on in this pseudo-Whitmanesque fashion for pages at a time. Still, the bottom line seems to be that loving America is a must for leftists, but so is criticizing it, because that is what real love requires.
This is a familiar argument, but not a coherent one. Although The Intellectuals and the Flag never makes it clear exactly why leftists should love their country, a number of possibilities present themselves. There is the tactical argument, for one, which holds that leftists should conform to local custom and profess patriotism because that is the only way to enter "the mainstream." There is the practical argument that leftists should wake up and recognize that internationalism has failed and that the nation-state is the only remaining democratic arena. Instead of denigrating America, they should be more supportive. And then there is the emotional argument, the idea that we all hold dear some concept of a homeland--Heimat, in German--because, to quote Brecht, "the bread tastes better there, the air smells better, voices sound stronger, the sky is higher, the ground is easier to walk on." Since we live in the land of hot dogs, baseball and apple pie, it's only natural to be loyal to it.
Yet none of these positions really holds water. The trouble with the tactical argument is that it rings with insincerity. Love is not something one expresses in order to gain political advantage; rather, love has to be heartfelt to be real. The practical argument is not persuasive, simply because the nation-state's record has been so obviously negative over the past century or so. The United Nations, the European Union, not to mention the former Soviet-sponsored Comecon (i.e., the East European Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) and indeed the former USSR itself, all arose out of the belief that the nation-state was an outmoded form that could only lead to stepped-up war and repression and that it had to be replaced with something newer and more expansive. Although some have tried to fudge the difference by arguing that patriotism is permissible as part of an international community of peace-minded patries, the fit between patriotism and internationalism has never been a comfortable one.
The emotional argument founders simply because the nation-state does not necessarily equate with Heimat. America is a country torn by cultural warfare. There is no reason for a liberal New Yorker or Californian to feel more at home in, say, Texas than in Toronto or Paris, even though these cities lie outside the confines of the legal entity known as the United States. "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely," said Edmund Burke. Yet "lovely" is the last word many Americans would use to describe "their" country, with its strip malls, evangelical churches and right-wing talk-radio.
And, finally, there is the moral-ideological argument that America is superior to other nations--fairer, more just and more democratic--and that it is hence entitled to our special admiration and respect. But this is actually a very dangerous one from a patriotic point of view. After all, one can't merely assert that one's country is morally superior. One must prove it, which implies not only a common international standard to measure it against but also the possibility that, once the sifting and winnowing is over, the nation in question will stand exposed as no better than other nations in its class and maybe even worse. If the former is the case, then it is not entitled to any special regard, while if it's the latter, then it is actually entitled to less. If we agree that political morality is to be the final determinant, then we must agree that one should not be loyal to one's country as a matter of course.
The notion of a common international standard implies something else: the importance of an international perspective. Patriotism "privileges" one viewpoint above all others, the view from within the fishbowl as opposed to those from without. This is true for any form of patriotism, but it is especially the case for the United States, the oldest republic on the face of the earth, the most insular and the most powerful (despite the deepening disaster in Iraq). By encouraging Americans to turn inward, patriotism allows them to turn their backs on the outside world, something all too easy in a nation of 300 million people bounded, as it has been said, by insignificant military powers to the north and south and by fish to the east and west. Yet the result, paradoxically, is not to disengage from the world at large but to strike out in an increasingly brutal and erratic fashion.
This is what made 9/11 such a turning point. Previously, Americans paid little attention as the government unleashed reactionary violence on faraway countries they knew little about. But when forces fueled and financed by Washington turned on their erstwhile sponsor and unleashed frightening violence within the United States, their reaction was one of rage and panic. Instead of reassessing their international role, Americans immediately responded by demanding that defenses be reinforced and the great American bubble be restored. With remarkable rapidity, Americans fell into line as Washington began lashing out at an array of enemies from the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East. Stepped-up patriotism led to a breakdown in democracy not only by encouraging an atmosphere of wartime authoritarianism but by discouraging anything by way of an objective international comparison that would enable Americans to see how far they had fallen. Patriotism robs people of perspective. By requiring them to turn their gaze inward, it encourages them in the view that their country is sui generis, a case apart, and therefore not to be judged on the same basis as other countries. While "democratic patriotism" may leave some room for criticism of specific conditions, it shields the nation as a whole by turning it into an object of veneration at exactly the moment when unsparing criticism from top to bottom is most required.
Yet rather than calling for less veneration, Gitlin is calling for more. This would seem to make no sense, but perhaps that is the point. As the title of his new book suggests, Gitlin aims his argument at American intellectuals, a group he never attempts to define although at times he seems to regard it as synonymous with the left. In seeking to advance a deliberately incoherent argument, perhaps he is seeking to de-intellectualize the intelligentsia, to somehow pressure it--and, by extension, Americans in general--into thinking less. This, after all, is what authoritarianism does: By inducing people to worship artificial totems, it encourages them to switch off their critical faculties. The result is greater compliance and less independent thought, a win-win situation for the right.
Not surprisingly, The Intellectuals and the Flag fairly abounds with political misjudgment regarding other topics as well. Nearly as angry at the Bush Administration these days as he is at those to his left, Gitlin writes that the mindless "repetition of stock phrases--'war on terror,' 'axis of evil,' 'root causes'"--is somehow impeding "public discussion of how this state of affairs came to pass and what can be done about it." Those trying to figure out why the attack on the World Trade Center occurred are thus no better than those who insist that Al Qaeda did it because "they hate our freedoms."
Gitlin insists that "patriotism has no quarrel with robust dissent," a statement that is little short of stunning considering not only the decline in political debate since 9/11 but his own role in squelching it. He argues that patriotism can serve as a useful basis for mobilization against Bushonomics and corporate ripoffs: "Americans did not take much reminding that when the skyscrapers were on fire, they needed fire fighters and police officers, not Enron hustlers or Arthur Andersen accountants. Yet we confront an administration that gaily passes out tax largesse to the plutocracy, whose idea of sacrifice is that somebody in a blue collar should perform it for low wages." But as he should know from his history books, populism and patriotism can make for an explosive combination. Nationalist anger at un-American plutocrats in corporate boardrooms can lead all too easily to nationalist anger at un-American intellectuals in the universities and the press.
Gitlin also offers a halfhearted defense of the war in Iraq. While complaining that Bush's reasons for going to war were "shabby, sloppy, and evasive," he insists that "the other powers' approach" was also deficient and that overthrowing the Iraqi Baathists was not without its "virtues." Like Thomas Friedman, he evidently regards Iraq as the right war fought for the wrong reasons. Citing his fellow Dissent-nik Paul Berman, Gitlin bravely inveighs against Islamic fundamentalism as "a poisonous, nihilist, totalitarian creed allied, in its ideological DNA, to fascism and communism." But he neglects to explain why, if Islamic fundamentalism and Soviet Communism are ideological brothers, they would fight a war to the death in Afghanistan and why the United States would provide the Afghan mujahedeen with billions of dollars in military aid. After all, ideological kin are more often allies than enemies. He also writes that "for a century...there has been no more murderous force in the world than totalist ideologies" such as Stalinism, Maoism and the radical peasant autarchy of the Khmer Rouge. This is a common sentiment these days, but what about democracy, socialism and science? They are equally "totalist," yet have been immensely liberating. Pace Gitlin, it is impossible to change society from top to bottom without a theory as to how it functions as a totality.
Finally, making a show of progressive politics, Gitlin criticizes America's runaway energy appetite. "Oil makes the United States grovel before Saudi tyrants," he declares. "Oil lubricated the disastrous U.S. support for the brutal shah of Iran.... Oil floated the tyranny of Saddam Hussein." True enough, dubious grammar notwithstanding. But oil as a motivating force behind Bush's invasion of Iraq? Forget about it. Gitlin doesn't even mention the possibility, presumably because it runs counter to his thesis that the war was a well-intentioned, if badly executed, attempt to rid the world of a noxious tyrant. He is apparently one of those naïve souls who, to quote the dreaded Noam Chomsky, believe that the United States "would have invaded Iraq if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main export was pickles, not petroleum."
One could go on, but why bother? The Intellectuals and the Flag is yet more evidence that the incompetence that has led to the greatest foreign-policy disaster in memory is not limited to Congress or the White House but extends across the entire foreign-policy establishment, from the on the right to Dissent on the left. In surrendering to the ecstasies of flag-worship, Gitlin and his co-thinkers turned off their critical faculties at exactly the moment they should have been turning them up to the maximum. The consequences have not been pretty in America or Iraq, and they look as if they're only going to get worse.
RESPONSES BY TODD GITLIN, BRIAN MORTON, MICHAEL KAZIN & DANIEL LAZARE
I wish I could say I was surprised that The Nation assigned a hatchet man to trash my book The Intellectuals and the Flag: the ever on-message Daniel Lazare, who's sputtered against my work for years. On his Long March to expose apostasy and dig up Fragments of the True Left, no scruple impedes Lazare.
Because Lazare is perhaps The Nation's back of the book's main go-to guy for heresy hunts, it's worth a fair number of words to see how shoddy his work is. His method is part fabrication, part demonology, part projection. Even when he tenders an idea, he warps it with his steel-trap either-or mind. Thus, when he makes the reasonable point that one could respond to the attacks of September 11"as a New Yorker, as a human being, as a secularist or as an anti-imperialist"--that is, one didn't have to respond as an American, perish the thought--he overlooks the many passages in my title essay where I do respond precisely as a New Yorker, a human being and, in fact, as an anti-imperialist, as well as an American. Lazare thinks I had to choose. That's his thuggish mind, not mine.
Lazare is a champion cherry-picker--he should apply for a job in Dick Cheney's office. In his many paragraphs of rant against what he takes to be my view of patriotism, there appear exactly two quotations from my book. Since Lazare is too busy to quote me, I refer the interested reader to a sentence in which, truth be told, I anticipate the likes of Lazare:"Viewing the ongoing politics of the Americans as contemptibly shallow and compromised, the demonological attitude naturally rules out patriotic attachment to those very Americans." Lazare illustrates the same point when he imputes to me the view that"responding as an American meant seeing 9/11 in essentially nationalist terms as a case of turbanned foreigners visiting evil on an innocent United States." Every claim that he puts in my mouth in this sentence is false--and refuted in the book.
Lazare is so contemptuous of the contrast I draw between patriotism and nationalism that he can't be troubled to note it. So I end up on his anathema list along, I suppose, with the fellow who said,"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it"--Mark Twain, who was also, I believe, a human being, a secularist and an anti-imperialist, as am I, though I may not have recited the loyalty oath prescribed by Inquisitor Lazare.
Most loathsomely, Lazare concocts the impression that I offer"a halfhearted defense of the war in Iraq," and that my"thesis" is"that the war was a well-intentioned, if badly executed, attempt to rid the world of a noxious tyrant." This is where tendentiousness rounds the corner and heads for dementia. Here is how Lazare works: He quotes exactly nothing from my book that says such a thing. There is nothing: I wrote against the war, spoke against it in many venues, marched against it, vigiled against it. Here is one sentence from the book:"By the time George W. Bush declared war without end against an 'axis of evil'...I felt again the old anger and shame at being attached to a nation--my nation--ruled by runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, playing fast and loose with the truth, their lives manifesting supreme loyalty to private (though government-slathered) interests yet quick to lecture dissenters about the merits of patriotism." On the next page, I criticize the Democrats for ducking the issue in 2002.
While Lazare was busy foraging for an essay of mine in Mother Jones to trash, he might have found many in which I argued against the war. Instead, he offers this:"Citing his fellow Dissent-nik Paul Berman, Gitlin bravely inveighs against Islamic fundamentalism as 'a poisonous, nihilist, totalitarian creed allied, in its ideological DNA, to fascism and communism.' But he neglects to explain why, if Islamic fundamentalism and Soviet Communism are ideological brothers, they would fight a war to the death in Afghanistan."
But the very next sentence after the one Lazare cites reads:"Unlike him [Berman], I concluded that its [Islamism's] roots are principally non-Western and that the wrong interventions--as against Iraq's Ba'athist tyranny--are likely to backfire." By the way, by Lazare's illogic, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could not have gone to war with each other; nor the Soviet Union and China; nor Saddam's Iraq and Khomeini's Iran.
Lazare is a professional subject-changer and barrel-bottom scraper. I criticize the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said for finding nothing good to say about US interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, whereupon Lazare objects that Chomsky is a" critical patriot" and Said was an"old-fashioned liberal." So? I write that totalist ideologies proved murderous, and Lazare, in his fourth-grade gotcha! manner, objects that democracy, socialism and science are also"totalist" (his scare quotes)--yet also liberating. QED! But of course democracy and science are not at all totalist, for they make room for dissent--as would socialism too if it were democratic.
Lazare thinks I wrote in Mother Jones against"Blaming America First" because I was"incensed" that my friend Katha Pollitt had written against flying the flag, and that I implied that Pollitt and her co-thinkers derived pleasure from the suffering around them. In truth, I was not writing about Katha, nor was I incensed about her views--in fact, we appeared together, amicably, arguing against an Iraq war on Democracy Now!, though we did disagree on some particulars. I was indeed incensed by Chomsky, who on the day of the mass murder was too busy denouncing Bill Clinton's 1998 attack on Sudan to express more than a perfunctory word about the Americans (and others) pulverized. Lazare then says I attacked Chomsky and Said as"foolish or disloyal." In fact, I attacked them as foolish, not disloyal. It is Lazare who is obsessed with loyalty--to what shimmering idea he does not get around to speaking.
But Lazare, in full jihad mode, flies past my observation, in the same Mother Jones piece, that"the American flag sprouted in the days after September 11, for many of us, as a badge of belonging, not a call to shed innocent blood." He extracts what he detests in one Mother Jones piece and doesn't mention my other Mother Jones work at all, including my polemic against the 2002 Bush National Security Statement.
Meanwhile, one-third of the pages of my book concern David Riesman, C. Wright Mills and Irving Howe, intellectuals who in their work aspired to comprehensiveness, comprehensibility and political use. Another one-third make arguments about postmodernism, cultural studies and university values. Lazare is too busy fulminating against my (shall we say) disloyalty even to pay any of this any mind. A mind like an ice pick cannot be bothered.
New York City
Until I read Daniel Lazare's review of Todd Gitlin's The Intellectuals and the Flag, I foolishly believed that Gitlin was an opponent of the war in Iraq. Maybe I believed this because Gitlin argued in a September 2002 New York Times op-ed article that"liberals should oppose this administration's push toward war in Iraq." Or maybe I believed it because, in a talk he gave at NYU in November 2002, he said that war in Iraq was likely to bring about" carnage and a boost to terror," that"wars must be a matter of last resort" and that despite the"monstrous tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the use of force for 'regime change' is not proportionate, nor is it justified." Or maybe I believed it because in the title essay of the book reviewed by Lazare, Gitlin says that Bush and his entourage"bamboozled the public," that they were"lying,"" cherry-picking the evidence,"" covering up the counter-evidence" and"playing the bully's game of triumph of the will." Until I read Lazare's review, I had no idea that all of this added up, as Lazare puts it, to a"half-hearted defense of the war in Iraq." That Gitlin is very sly! Thank goodness we have sharp-eyed and intellectually scrupulous critics like Lazare to expose him.
Chevy Chase, Md.
Any future historian seeking a prime example of idiocy on the American left will have to look no further than Daniel Lazare's tirade against Todd Gitlin's latest book. Here she will find Gitlin, a consistent and eloquent opponent of the Iraq War, described as a member of the"foreign policy establishment" and an ally of"authoritarianism." Here she will find Lazare mocking the very idea that left-wing patriotism can be anything other than a surrender to jingoism--although such worthies as Frederick Douglass, Eugene Debs and Martin Luther King Jr. invoked American ideals to support their demands. And here she will find evidence that certain radicals gain more satisfaction from hating a prominent progressive like Gitlin than in figuring out how to rescue the positive aspects of national traditions from the right-wing government that speaks in their name. The Intellectuals and the Flag is a splendid contribution to the revival of a credible left that might actually play a part in changing our country. Lazare's review is a mélange of falsehoods and baseless rants that reminded me of the kind of hack jobs once performed by Stalinist writers like Mike Gold and V.J. Jerome. It should have no place in the most popular weekly on the current American left.
New York City
Todd Gitlin has written a long, furious blast of a letter, so I'll be as clear and calm as I can in reply. It is beyond me why Gitlin characterizes my point about the importance of perspective as"thuggish." I think it's obvious: The"optic" one chooses to view a particular event helps determine one's perception, analysis and response. In Gitlin's case, choosing to view 9/11 through patriotic lenses fairly insured that he'd join in the mood of belligerent nationalism that was sweeping the country and that he'd be incensed at those who refused to do likewise. The astonishing charge of"schadenfreude" that he hurled at certain unnamed leftists in his notorious Mother Jones article a few months later was the inevitable upshot. Not even Bush or Cheney went this far. Yet Gitlin not only refuses to apologize but is now furious that I would even bring it up.
Gitlin writes that"Lazare is so contemptuous of the contrast I draw between patriotism and nationalism that he can't be troubled to note it." But in fact I quoted him at length on the subject of"democratic patriotism." I just didn't find his comments very convincing. Gitlin describes me as loathsome, tendentious and demented for suggesting that the arguments in The Intellectuals and the Flag add up to"a halfhearted defense" of the Iraq War and adds that I quoted"exactly nothing from my book that says such a thing." But while noting his statement that the Bush Administration's reasons for going to war were"shabby, sloppy and evasive," I also quoted him as saying that"the other powers' approach" to the problem of Saddam was deficient and that removing Saddam was not without its"virtues." Despite Bush's shortcomings, in other words, Gitlin managed to find something good to say about the invasion's chief goal while arguing that no one else was able to come up with anything better. I think"a halfhearted defense" in this context is entirely accurate.
Although I didn't say so in my review, I might point out that Gitlin went on in his book to describe the invasion not as wrong, but as merely"botched"--which suggests that, had it been properly executed, he might very well have been in support. I might also point out that he set off a round of booing at the 2003 Socialist Scholars Conference when, on the eve of the invasion, he told the assembled leftists to brace themselves because the outcome might turn out to be better than they were expecting. Needless to say, he was wrong. Gitlin no doubt thought he was being very sage in criticizing not only Bush but leftists who, he thought, were soft on Saddam. But the charge was groundless and only succeeded in infuriating the war's opponents.
Gitlin accuses me of failing to quote the distinction he draws between Paul Berman's thesis that Islamic fundamentalism, communism and fascism are all brothers under the skin and his own position that Islamic fundamentalism's"roots are principally non-Western and that the wrong interventions--as against Iraq's Ba'athist tyranny--are likely to backfire." I didn't quote it, because I thought it was a minor qualification that added little to the overall discussion. But maybe I should have, if only because it exemplifies so much of what is wrong with his writing. After all, what does the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism have to do with overthrowing a Baathist regime that was predominantly secular and nationalist? Not only is the statement that"wrong interventions...are likely to backfire" a tautology (can wrong interventions do anything but backfire?) but it is also a purely pragmatic argument that, by limiting itself to the likely consequences of such actions, avoids any question as to their underlying morality. The point is not whether intervention would work (whatever"work" means in this context) but whether it would be right or wrong in the first place.
A few other points: Gitlin says I am wrong to argue that if fundamentalism and Soviet Communism were brothers under the skin, it would beg the question of why they"would fight a war to the death in Afghanistan." He replies that ideological brothers often go to war with one another and cites Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II as an example. But this statement leaves me puzzled. Is he saying that the Nazis and Soviets were ideological brothers as well? If so, he should be aware that the only people who maintained this position at the time were a few isolationists calling for a plague on both their houses and quietly hoping that Hitler would be left alone to finish the job against Stalin. Most others, including nearly everyone on the left, recognized that despite certain superficial similarities at the top, the war between Germany and Russia was between fundamentally antagonistic social systems. If Gitlin disagrees, perhaps he should explain why.
Finally, I'm glad that Gitlin and Pollitt are friends, but I still find his comments about Noam Chomsky to be despicable. I don't know Chomsky and actually disagree with a fair amount of what he has to say. Yet I'm absolutely confident that he was as appalled and outraged at the slaughter of the innocents on 9/11 as everyone else. If he brought up Sudan, it was only to make the vital point that while the victims were innocent the US government was not, and that Americans should demand that it come clean about its many unsavory activities in the Third World. If more dissidents had succeeded in making themselves heard in those days, we would be a lot better off now. But they were quickly silenced by people yelling"schadenfreude" and other terms of abuse, and so the war effort continued unimpeded.
Hatchet man...fabrication...loathsome: Gitlin insists that patriotism is an ideology of tolerance but grows angry and abusive when confronted with someone who disagrees. What's wrong with this picture?
Regarding Brian Morton and Michael Kazin, it's clear that Gitlin has been e-mailing his Dissent colleagues to get them to respond. I wonder what left-wing stalwarts on the editorial board we'll be hearing from next--Paul Berman? Martin Peretz? Perhaps Mitchell Cohen will write in to explain why he supports the war, while his co-editor Michael Walzer clears up the mysteries of his own anti-antiwar position. The 2002 Times op-ed article Morton cites was actually a hack job that attacked"intellectuals and activists on the far left" who, according to Gitlin," could not be troubled much with compassion or defense." Once again, he portrays leftists as anti-American ideologues unmoved by 3,000 deaths, which is undoubtedly why the Times chose to run that absurd piece. Kazin's letter is even worse--an obnoxious, bullying screed that insists we all acknowledge Gitlin as"a consistent and eloquent opponent" of the war merely because Kazin says so. As for the charge of Stalinism, I've been the most fervent of anti-Stalinists ever since joining a Trotskyist cell in Madison, Wisconsin, at age 20 (a long, long time ago, unfortunately). In neolib-speak,"Stalinist" seems to be a general term of abuse for anyone daring to challenge the left-wing credentials of the various stuffed shirts who write for Dissent. Wherever he is, I'm sure that Uncle Joe is enjoying the compliment.
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SOURCE: Nation ()
The June 1967 issue of William Gaines's popular humor magazine Mad was devoted to race, with images of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover in several different racial guises. The "Special Racial Issue," as it was called, featured two comic-strip satires of the kind for which the magazine was famous. One was a sendup of the television series I Spy, whose co-star, Bill Cosby, was the first African-American actor to have a regular supporting role in a television drama. The other comic strip, "Stokely and Tess," cleverly drawn from the Gershwin/DuBose opera Porgy and Bess, explored the internal division in the civil rights movement between advocates of nonviolent resistance in the Martin Luther King Jr. mold and the emerging Black Power movement.
Stokely was, of course, Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a longstanding voter-registration organizer in Lowndes County, Alabama. Carmichael had marched side by side with King as recently as 1966, but by the following year he had become, for whites, the nightmare symbol of radical, unruly blacks. In the satire Tess, a fictional character, represents the uncommitted or unsure black person, whom Stokely tries to woo with the rhetoric of Black Power and self-determination, while King competes for her loyalty with the blandishments of nonviolence and Christian love. There were cameos by Sammy Davis Jr., Harlem preacher and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, comedian Dick Gregory, James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, all celebrities associated with distinct factions of the civil rights movement or ideologies critical of it. Tess herself is a caricature of Diahann Carroll, the most famous black actress of the time, who had a major role in Otto Preminger's 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess (Bess was played by Dorothy Dandridge). In fact, what drove the entire satire was precisely the interconnection between the civil rights movement and popular culture. Mad writers and artists could expect their white adolescent readers to know who these black people were and to have some familiarity with what they were arguing about. It was probably the first time in American history when the political divisions among blacks mattered to whites, thanks in large part to the 1965 race rebellion in Watts and subsequently in other parts of the country, especially the North. Before this, the civil rights struggle, and the race conflict generally, was seen as a Southern problem. By the mid-1960s it had become a national crisis. As a result, the conflicts between black "militants" and "moderates," to use the lingo of the era, had even become a form of popular entertainment.
"Stokely and Tess" also marked the end of an era, in the sense that the assassination of King the following April made it virtually impossible for anyone to treat the movement or King with such gleeful irreverence. Since then, liberal white guilt and black pride have transformed him into a civic and racial saint, so transcendent that even conservatives, who had no love for him when he was alive, pay him homage. It is hard to say who has benefited from King's embalming, but it's not the American public, which hardly needs to have the jagged edges of its past smoothed over by the sentimentalization of a figure so central to the debate over the meaning of our democracy.
Coming from a politically active family, with two older sisters who helped to launch Temple University's Black Students Union and its first black publication, Maji-Maji, I read the Mad "Special Race Issue" at the time with some interest. I wasn't supposed to appreciate a sendup of black politics by whites, but I found it hilarious. I don't know whether the Mad writers were aware of how ambivalent blacks were about the opera, but it was precisely this ambivalence that made "Stokely and Tess" work as a satire. It was funny, in part, because no black person I knew liked Porgy and Bess but everyone knew the songs. Every black singer, professional and amateur, when I was a kid, sang "Summertime."
Taylor Branch does not mention "Stokely and Tess" in At Canaan's Edge, the concluding volume of his epic trilogy on America in the King years. This omission signals a certain weakness concerning how deeply black politics affected the way black people saw their cultural life in the 1960s, as well as how black politics shaped the perception of black people in popular culture. But the internal divisions in the movement, nonviolence versus Black Power, the splintering of the fragile but effective black consensus after the 1965 Selma March, is very much one of the subjects of this sprawling and intensely elegiac book. The collapse of the African-American consensus mirrored the breakdown in the New Deal liberal consensus itself, a breakdown caused in good measure by the Vietnam War; the course of what one might call Mr. Johnson's War is also a major subject of Branch's book. The demise of New Deal liberalism--in part because it failed to produce true equity, the hope of the civil rights movement, and in part because it presided over a cynical foreign policy that led to the anti-Communist catastrophe called Vietnam--is one of the great tragedies or, for resurgent conservatives, one of the great "corrections" of twentieth-century American history.
What Branch makes clear, though, is that New Deal liberalism was undone equally by hubris and by doubt, by rash action and by compromised hesitancy. Lyndon Johnson's frantic rush to pass pathbreaking legislation while he still had the political capital to do so seems, in retrospect, to reflect not only his sense of the urgency of rendering justice but a preoccupation with his place in history and an overweening pride in fixing the country's sins. King's push for more demonstrations after 1965, at a time when even his most ardent followers felt exhausted and frustrated, mirrored the same pride and the same mad rush for change. Those who believed that change was occurring too quickly for it to be absorbed or understood or before a consensus of white working- and middle-class support could be generated for it were right.
Yet as Branch recounts, civil rights workers in the racist trenches of the Deep South felt that the government was moving too slowly, fearful of white (particularly Southern white) alienation, and that Johnson should seize the moment and complete the project of Reconstruction that had been aborted nearly 100 years earlier. To these activists King seemed, if anything, too hesitant in following the logic of his own message. Without a radical revolution in the relationship between black and white Americans, nothing in the end would really change. Those who felt that progress was coming in piecemeal fashion and that the search for a white middle-class consensus in favor of racial equality was not only unnecessary but counterrevolutionary were right, too.
The ultimate paradox of the 1960s was that its reformist urge simultaneously went too far and not far enough, as the country was consumed by the fires of two protracted wars: the domestic race war of whites against blacks and the foreign imperialist war of Americans against Asians. Race was not incidental to people's views of Vietnam, among opponents as well as supporters. Henry Luce, founder of Time magazine--who considered himself something of an Asian expert, as he had been born in China--told Johnson that, in Branch's words, "racial prejudice worked against the call to military sacrifice across the Pacific." And on the left, particularly the black left, Vietnam was seen as a racist, neocolonialist war of a rich white nation against a poor "colored" nation. The idea of Third World "colored" solidarity had spread since the end of World War II with gatherings such as the Afro-Asian Unity Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 and such movements as Egyptian President Nasser's Arab nationalism and various forms of Pan-Africanism. Race was the American Armageddon of the 1960s.
From the fires of these wars over race and poverty at home and Third World nationalism abroad came a resurgent, newly populist American conservatism that has become a vital, if not the dominant, force in American political life since the 1968 election of Republican Richard Nixon as President on a platform of "law and order" and "peace with honor." ("Peace with honor" turned out to mean five more years of escalated bloodletting in Vietnam in what became Mr. Nixon's War.) Yet it was not Nixon who breathed new life into conservatism but rather Ronald Reagan, whose rise to the governorship of California in 1966 Branch recounts. Reagan put a genial, optimistic face on conservatism and gave the dismantling of the New Deal legislative program, the aim of American conservatives since the 1930s, an almost reformist air of freshness and vitality. Still, as Branch makes clear, the Johnson legacy of 1960s liberal reform remains a cornerstone of American life: "federal aid to education, Medicare, voting rights, and immigration reform.... Each of the bills established a landmark national commitment--to the young, the elderly, minorities, and even aspiring foreigners. Together they extended America's distinctive horizontal bonds of popular strength, in keeping with the founding principle of equal citizenship."
Branch's book opens with the Selma March for voting rights in 1965, "the last great thrust of a movement built on patriotic idealism," then facing "an opposing tide of resentment and disbelief...contesting the language of freedom." This march, which aided the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, brought together a perfect coalition of the federal government, white religious and political liberals, and Southern blacks, both middle-class and rural poor, young and old. As Branch reminds us, the Selma campaign was actually a series of marches--the first savagely attacked by Alabama state troopers and white militias; a second march that King led up to the Pettus Bridge and then turned back so as not to violate a temporary restraining order; and a final march that went from Selma to Montgomery, a trip that only a relatively small number made in its entirety, since the court would only grant permission for a limited number of people to cross a narrow section of the bridge. There were deaths--the murder of two whites, James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, made national headlines. But it was probably the most guarded march, by the federal government, of any civil rights demonstration.
At Canaan's Edge concludes with the assassination of King in April 1968 in Memphis, where he was trying to help a black sanitation workers' union negotiate with the tough, unsympathetic Mayor Henry Loeb. At this point, King was trying to hold on to his crumbling coalition--the federal government had abandoned him for turning against the Vietnam War; white liberals had grown weary of demonstrations and wary of the growing black separatism and truculence that now characterized the movement; and blacks themselves had grown sick of nonviolence, as it seemed to have produced nothing but white violence or episodes of black self-destructiveness. He was aching for a major demonstration that would prove the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance strategies, although, as Branch notes, he was "far from sure they would work." Thus was born King's plan for a poor people's march on Washington, which he tried to get a variety of "non-black" minority leaders to support. This multiculturalist approach was, for him, the crucial next phase of the civil rights movement. The idea of the march seemed almost quixotic, even to King's lieutenants--Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and James Bevel, a remarkable collection of talented, committed men but often, with the exception of Young, prone to neurotic histrionics. Yet King staked his ego, his sense of political and religious mission, even his very sanity, on going ahead. He was waylaid by the trouble in Memphis, where he had been urged to intervene by longtime associate and nonviolent pioneer James Lawson. His advisers urged him not to become involved, as it would take time and resources from the Poor People's Campaign. He didn't listen.
Between these two events we learn about Johnson's historic Congressional speech announcing voting rights legislation, where he committed the nation to equality (and, implicitly, to affirmative action). "Not only did Johnson embrace the fused spiritual and patriotic grounding of the nonviolent movement, but he committed the national government to vindicate its long-suffering promise of equal citizenship," Branch writes. "A tear rolled down King's cheek" as he listened to Johnson's speech.
Yet the alliance between the two men, never an easy one, was soon to crumble over the Vietnam War. At first King tried to finesse matters by hiding his hatred of war under the mantle of being a minister, hoping not to alienate Johnson because he understood the risks Johnson was taking in his staunch support of the civil rights movement. And Johnson was not one to tolerate dissent on the war, viewing critics of Vietnam as, in Branch's words, "disloyal, impractical, and unprincipled all at once." Yet King could not conceal his opposition to the war for long, and in his Riverside Church address in April 1967, he passionately echoed the left's view of the war as imperialist and racist. He had hinted at those views earlier, but under pressure from Bayard Rustin and other aides, he had muted them as well as he could.
In perhaps his greatest service, Branch helps us to understand why nonviolence lost its appeal to civil rights activists in the trenches, notably to Stokely Carmichael. During his courageous work with SNCC in Lowndes County, Carmichael came up against such tremendous white resistance that he and many of his fellow activists became disillusioned with democratic, representative politics. The movement he led resulted in the formation of the Black Panther Party, which in turn inspired a set of self-styled revolutionaries in Oakland, California, to take the name and make it famous, or infamous. James Meredith's one-man March Against Fear in June 1966, during which he was shot by a segregationist, also hastened SNCC's deterioration and the coming of Black Power. But if the repression and stresses of the Southern campaign and the inability to control "wildcat" actions like Meredith's led to the breakdown of the civil rights movement, the Watts riot and its successors created a new set of fault lines.
King's campaign in Chicago was a response to Watts, and Branch gives a typically comprehensive account of it. The minister's staff was divided about going there because of the complexity of the local politics both outside and within the black community. King seemed to be almost desperate. "We have stood up for nonviolence with all our hearts," he cried at one point. "I need help. I need some victories. I need some concessions." The local white response to the demonstrations was horrific. "I have never in my life seen such hate," King said. As Branch observes: "Chicago nationalized race, complementing the impact of Watts. Without it King would be confined to posterity more as a regional figure. The violence against Northern demonstrations cracked a beguiling, cultivated conceit that bigotry was the province of backward Southerners, treatable by enlightened but firm instruction." Branch sees the Chicago campaign as less of a failure than many other commentators do, although he admits that it was not a success.
As sympathetic as President Johnson was to the aims of the civil rights movement, King faced a ferocious enemy in the federal government: the serpentine FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. There is much in Branch's book about Hoover's efforts to undermine and discredit the movement even as the FBI investigated violent crimes against civil rights workers in the South. This campaign of sabotage created an atmosphere of fear and loathing between many in the civil rights movement and the FBI. We are also given the story of the rise of the antiwar movement, from a few single individuals who set themselves on fire in protest of the brutality of the war to the surging power of a mass movement, almost exclusively populated by whites. Its relationship with the civil rights movement, which it eventually overshadowed, was always uneasy even though younger, more radical civil rights workers, like those in SNCC, were almost instantaneously antiwar.
It is a testament to Branch's skills as a writer that he is able to keep all these balls in the air in the formation of a riveting narrative that doesn't meander or get too trapped in the details, although it is extraordinarily, even relentlessly, detailed. It is clear that Branch's sympathies lie with King, the movement and the emerging participatory democracy that was being generated largely through the committed actions of a small number of citizens. But Branch is more a chronicler of events than an analytic writer, and one of the weaknesses of the book for some readers will be the lack of a theoretical framework, its failure to make the reader see the meaning of the history in fresh terms.
King emerges in this galaxy as a man who is desperately trying to hold the center, trying not to go too far to the left and get swallowed by the white peace movement or the New Left. Unlike Bayard Rustin and W.E.B. Du Bois, King didn't run the risk here solely of being politically marginalized by pacifism but of being used by the white left, since, as a Nobel Prize winner, a man who talked with Presidents and helped get legislation passed, and as the leader of a successful mass movement, he was bringing far more to the table than the white left was. Branch notes that King thought several leaders of the white peace movement were pushy and eager to take advantage of his fame and political legitimacy. One of his advisers, Stanley Levison, remarked at one point that he could understand why Dr. Spock had "difficulty with these people."
But King fought equally hard not to be absorbed by black cultural nationalism (Amiri Baraka, Maulana Ron Karenga, Kawaida, the Nation of Islam) or Black Power or black leftist radicalism (the Black Panther Party). He hated separatism, although he understood its causes. For King, separatism was simply not a practical or even rational solution to the problems of blacks in America. Part of his dislike of black cultural nationalism might have reflected his inability to escape the bourgeois Christian conventions that had shaped his life. Part of it probably sprang from a conviction that nonviolence and Christian love were the truly revolutionary forces for positive change and that all other things were simply versions of authoritarian despair or nihilism. Black cultural nationalism, Black Power and the cries for redemptive violence were all, to King, signs of defeat and black political and cultural breakdown. King was convinced that only he offered hope, for the only way to change America was to believe in it, and the only way to expand the democratic possibility was to believe that democracy was worth sacrificing for, not that it should itself be sacrificed.
Addicted to sleeping pills, cheating habitually on his wife, downing straight whiskeys in quiet moments (which his denomination forbade), smoking cigarettes while trying to cope with the constant threat of death and consumed by self-righteousness, egotism and guilt over his affairs and his fame, King comes across as an amazingly courageous, if fatalistic, man, by turns practical and romantic, and far tougher than our plaster-saint version of him comes close to suggesting. He accepted the real possibility of an untimely death with the Christian shrug of "if it is God's will." And what else could he do? He could hardly fret about staying alive, and he was far more concerned about threats to his family. He worked astonishingly long hours, embarking on grueling fundraising tours and adeptly dealing with the press. He tolerated a group of nearly unmanageable advisers and the grand egos of all the clerical members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who knew that he ultimately called the shots, and who remained loyal to him to the end. Although he was not an especially good administrator, he was deft at handling the domineering personalities around him, much as Duke Ellington handled the stars of his band. He was a star in a way that no other black leader before or since has been.
There were two elements I felt this book lacked as a "life and times" work: a brief account of the Black Arts Movement and the influence of black writers like Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee (now Haki Madhubuti), Sonia Sanchez and others on the thinking of younger blacks and a paragraph or so on the publication and impact of John Williams's novel The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), the most important black novel of the 1960s. Second, a bit more, perhaps a page or so, about trends in African-American popular music--Curtis Mayfield, Motown, James Brown and others--would have been nice, and perhaps a bit on the rise of the natural or bush as a hairstyle (later to be called the Afro). It might be argued that this is strictly a book about politics, but the Black Power movement cannot be fully understood and its impact cannot be fully appreciated unless its cultural claims and manifestations are delineated or at least acknowledged. Many black people then made virtually no distinction between their politics and their culture. William Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975 complements Branch's book nicely in this regard.
This final volume in Branch's staggering trilogy reminds us of what a mighty contribution the civil rights movement made to the transformation of American democracy, how, for a certain number of years, it gave black people a sense of hope, of optimism, of belief in their native land. It also reminds us of how extraordinary Martin Luther King was, a conspicuously flawed but astonishingly brilliant vessel, a man central casting would not have selected to be the centerpiece of the greatest and most well-organized mass movement for social change the United States has ever seen. It was true, for a time in America during the King years, as King so famously misquoted the Bible, that "justice rolls down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
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This massive book arrived last fall as a media event. Goodwin was widely interviewed on radio and television. Team of Rivals thereby gained immediate notice in the most visible places. Ever since publishing her fascinating memoir, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976), Goodwin has commanded a wide following of interested readers. They quickly vaulted her newest contribution to the top of the best seller lists. Few academic historians will sell as many books in a lifetime as she sells in a week.
Goodwin is a skilled biographer. To get a fresh angle of vision on Abraham Lincoln, she decided to study in depth the men he appointed to his cabinet, among whom were his four chief rivals for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1860. Goodwin thinks Lincoln can be better understood and appreciated by studying his interactions with those who were “better known, better educated, and more experienced in public life” than he, most especially his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, and his Treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase (xvi).
Goodwin admires Lincoln. She notes astutely that he enjoyed “a profound self-confidence.” An “even-tempered disposition” enabled him to overcome a “melancholy temperament” and “function at a very high level,” even in the face of “appalling pressures.” Only someone with “remarkable talents” could transform an unstable collection of bruised egos into a team that could fight and win an enormous war. It is telling indeed when a biographer of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and the Kennedy family recognizes in Lincoln surpassing qualities of leadership (xvi-xix).
Team of Rivals is Goodwin’s most ambitious book to date. The Civil War era stretches back long before oral sources can shed much light on a subject. Perforce, Goodwin has had to do without the sort of material that she has heretofore used with such telling effect. Instead, she has been obliged to rely on archival sources and a mountain of secondary literature. Her achievement in mastering the necessary documents and monographs is impressive.
Goodwin is at her best when using letters to illuminate relationships. Lincoln, Seward, Chase, and the women in their lives all come into memorable focus. Her insights about individuals ring true. She also makes a convincing case that individual experiences can be better comprehended by widening the focus to include other key actors, both personal and professional. The composite approach used here does yield insights that could not have been realized by a more narrowly focused biography of Lincoln.
In creating a three-dimensional Lincoln, Goodwin must do the same for his chief rivals. Readers therefore enjoy a rich account of the affectionate but distanced marriage linking Seward to his wife Frances. A gifted “semi-invalid” who hated political life in Washington D.C. and therefore stayed home in upstate New York, Frances was also a far more unyielding opponent of slavery than her husband. Their relationship was “sustained chiefly through the long, loving letters they wrote to each other day after day, year after year” (155, 303). Never before have these letters been used to such telling effect. Also quite unforgettable is the relationship between the thrice-widowed Chase and his beautiful daughter Kate, who was as extroverted as Frances Seward was withdrawn. Although Goodwin convincingly challenges the idea through her careful reading of original sources, it was widely assumed at the time that Kate Chase married the immensely wealthy but otherwise ordinary William Sprague in order to fund her father’s presidential dream (580-81).
One must not conclude that Team of Rivals is simply historical soap opera. The Goodwin approach largely delivers what it promises. Seward quickly understood Lincoln’s exceptional attributes and subordinated himself accordingly. The two became fast friends, and their friendship provides perhaps the key story line for the book. Chase, however, always thought that he deserved to sit in the White House, and this undermined his relationship with Lincoln. Goodwin tries to be fair to Mary Todd Lincoln, but it is a tough assignment. Though born to far greater privilege than her husband, she had none of his inner confidence. Her gratuitous snubs of Frances Seward and her petty refusal to attend Kate Chase’s wedding contrasted diametrically with her husband’s readiness to reach out to those who resented him (386-87, 581-82). Mary Lincoln’s spending sprees reflected a craving for attention, but they earned her the wrong sort of attention. She too, somewhat like Chase, envied her husband’s success and confidence.
Team of Rivals works best when the team is limited to Lincoln, Seward, and Chase. Goodwin might better have defined the book as such. Her design, however, also compels her to include Lincoln’s other two1860 rivals. Edward Bates, the Attorney General, looms large here even though his wartime role was modest. Simon Cameron never comes into focus, no doubt because he lasted less than a year as Secretary of War. His more consequential successor, Edwin Stanton, deservedly receives more coverage. Goodwin likewise details the roles played by two other cabinet members, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. The title of the book is a double entendre. The five 1860 rivals for the Republican nomination did and did not make their peace with each other, but they and the others in the cabinet soon faced challenges that made 1860 ancient history. Intra-cabinet rivalries—and new alignments among the rivals—persisted throughout the war. At times the jousting became so distracting that Lincoln simply refused to hold cabinet meetings (525). He must have been relieved to ease both Chase and Blair out of his official family as the 1864 elections approached.
It may be an occupational hazard among biographers to downplay evidence that would place their subjects in anything less than the best light. Goodwin plainly finds Lincoln admirable. Admiration may intensify—but may also cloud—historical judgment.
Goodwin wants Lincoln to be consistently principled. She eagerly calls attention, as do other Lincoln biographers, to Lincoln’s private denunciation of anti-immigrant nativists. In an oft-quoted letter to his old friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln deplored the tendency to exclude foreigners and Catholics from the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Goodwin fails to make it plain, however, that Lincoln prudently avoided taking a comparable public stance. Unlike Seward, who outspokenly rejected anti-Catholic intolerance, Lincoln judged that he needed to appease voters who had both anti-immigrant and anti-southern tendencies (180-81). When Lincoln’s promoters argued successfully that he was more “available” (that is, electable) than Seward, their case rested in part on a recognition that Lincoln would be more acceptable to the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican party. Goodwin acknowledges as much in a single sentence ( Lincoln was “less offensive than Seward” to those who disliked immigrants), but she gives the matter no emphasis (237-56, quotation on 254).
Goodwin delights, as Lincoln biographers must, in the soaring language of his annual message to Congress in December 1862—an admonition that “we cannot escape history,” and that “the fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation” (501). She does not mention that Lincoln coupled his elegant defense of emancipation with a flagrant concession to white racial phobias: he wanted the federal government to pay the costs for freed slaves who wished to be colonized abroad.
Goodwin faithfully notes instances when dubious means were used to secure laudable ends, but she focuses on the ends. Thus, when Lincoln enlisted Thurlow Weed to come up with a secret slush fund to influence the Connecticut and Rhode Island elections in April 1863, “it was money well spent” (505). When the fate of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery hung in the balance in January 1865, special favors and what other historians have described as overt bribery were used to win the votes of several wavering Congressmen. Lincoln also used a “cunning evasion” to deny that Confederate Peace Commissioners were seeking a negotiated end to the war (687-88). Without such underhanded tactics, the Amendment would likely have failed—and that, quite understandably, is Goodwin’s bottom line.
Biographers also tend to depict their subjects as larger than life and to empower them with almost superhuman qualities. Lincoln has seduced many a previous biographer. Notwithstanding the excellence of her research and writing, Goodwin too sometimes succumbs to the same temptation.
For example, Goodwin’s Lincoln knew what he was doing during the winter before the war started. He allowed the would-be compromiser Seward to make conciliatory overtures toward the disaffected South, in hopes of preserving the peace, and he even incorporated many of Seward’s words in his inaugural address. But Lincoln also knew where to draw the line, and he “retained an astonishing degree of control over an increasingly chaotic and potentially devastating situation” (304). While Seward aged ten years in just a few months, Lincoln alone had the composure and inner strength to make the right decisions.
Goodwin has plenty of esteemed company in depicting Lincoln as the master of his fate. She glosses over, however, much evidence that points in a different direction. David Potter wisely reminded us that Lincoln never expected to become a war president and never expected to preside over the forcible destruction of the slave system. Potter’s Lincoln “groped and blundered” as he confronted the awful fact that Southern secessionists were in earnest [Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, 315]. Lincoln himself confessed that the unexpected challenges during his first weeks in office were “so great that could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to have survived them” (340).
In a public letter defending his emancipation policies, written in April 1864, Lincoln disavowed his “sagacity.” He insisted that he had not controlled events, but rather that “events have controlled me” [ Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges, 4 April 1864, in Basler, ed., Collected Works, VII: 281-83]. His biographers rarely accept this striking instance of presidential modesty. Goodwin does not mention it at all. Instead, she joins a long parade of those who not only acclaim Lincoln’s uniquely strong capabilities and his gift for responding effectively to challenges that he encountered—but who also celebrate an almost superhuman omniscience that gave him the confidence to shape outcomes and make an indelible mark on history. Biographers find such an approach almost irresistible; historians worry that Lincoln’s biographers may claim too much.
“They’re all crooks!” my garment worker father used to say when I would ask him about his union’s officials. I always objected, contending that he was too critical. In the decades that followed, labor corruption and racketeering received much publicity and reached the point where today, Robert Fitch, a journalist and union member, in argues that crookedness is indeed common. “Pervasive corruption,” and “the perception of corruption,” Fitch contends, are not only harmful, but explain the drastic shrinkage of union membership since 1955 when more than a third of the nation’s private-sector workers were organized.
The cure he recommends is nothing less than a complete overhaul that would strip away the superstructure the American Federation of Labor began to erect when it was founded in the 1880s. Echoing business foes of unionism, Fitch charges that labor leaders are out of touch with union members and a suggests such “strategies” as an end to compulsory union membership and exclusive bargaining contracts.
Fitch is unsparing in his assault. Completed on the eve of Andrew Stern’s creation of the Change to Win Coalition in June 2005 and its secession the next month from the AFL-CIO, his book takes on both the old and new federations. He finds unsavory elements within each group, and contends that neither side is interested in altering the basic relationships between leaders and followers that foster corruption. It is a world of “fiefdoms” that defy destruction.
Wielding a verbal rapier, Fitch marches through time, beginning with “the stout, hard-drinking [Samuel] Gompers” and concluding with Stern, neither of whom he finds especially interested in democracy. Rather than write about role models, or engage in “exemplary history,” he would have historians engage in “explanatory history,” to reveal “how things happened,” with an eye on institutions, “which set the rules that establish how people will be treated.” Contemptuous of accounts of traditional labor heroes and martyrs, he calls attention to “the true founders of the American labor republic,” two turn-of-the-twentieth century figures, the “notorious” head of the Ironworkers, Sam Parks, and Teamsters Union president Cornelius “Con” Shea.
As these and other unsavory characters dominated the labor movement, Fitch further contends, working conditions remained poor and union membership totals low. With labor subverting itself this way, one may wonder why management has through the years bothered to oppose unionization everywhere, from shops to courts, legislatures, and even the streets. Why did business leaders establish the “open shop” “American Plan” in the 1920s, and have Congress enact Taft-Hartley in 1947 and Landrum-Griffin in 1959? The latter measure, passed after an investigation of labor racketeering, included a “Bill of Rights” to protect union members from their leaders. Without denying the prevalence of corruption, which Fitch demonstrates, can anyone in good conscience say that the business interests behind Congress sought “union democracy” and improved working conditions? Or was it merely union-busting that they were after?
With journalistic ease, Fitch details both private and public sector union corruption, especially within more recent organizations. Using mainly published sources supplemented by interviews and archival materials, writing with confidence and conviction, he effectively skewers officials of several unions, including Teamsters, Service Employees, Garment Workers and Mason Tenders. He is less effective in dealing with the early period, for example, paying scant attention to personal and intellectual differences between Samuel Gompers and Terence Powderly in the rivalry that led to the formation of the AFL, and mistakenly placing that event in the 1890s. His bibliography is slim, missing the major biographies of such figures as Sidney Hillman, John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther, perhaps because to study them would be to lapse into “exemplary history.”
By design Fitch did not write a “balanced” labor history, but in concentrating on pervasive corruption, “labor’s forgotten past,” he uses a single factor in the sorry state of today’s unionism to explain what has happened. In two paragraphs he dismisses globalization and other “universal trends,” casually alleging the relative weakness of American unions while stressing their corruption. As observers have long noticed, America is exceptional in several ways, not only in the structure and corruptness of its unions.
Robert Fitch is driving home a point, for which he deserves credit. Perhaps the problem in the United States actually is “a lack of calling” on the part of union leaders who serve themselves rather than their constituents. However, for them to reverse course is unlikely. Though few business people would prefer to deal with racketeers, it is questionable how many would welcome, and even permit, revitalized labor organizations.
David Horowitz’s campaign against ‘the insularity of a predominantly left-wing academic environment’ achieves its most specific manifestation yet in his latest book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Individually targeting 101 faculty, whom Horowitz characterizes as representative of the American academic-intellectual establishment, the book devotes 364 pages to an alphabetical progression through those radicals who “spew violent Anti-Americanism, preach Anti-Semitism, and cheer on the killing of American soldiers and civilians – all the while collecting tax dollars and tuition fees to indoctrinate our children,” as a blurb for the book states.
These “alleged ex-terrorists, racists, murderers, sexual deviants, anti-Semites, and al-Qaeda supporters” have managed to earn tenure and win the respect of their academic colleagues through a deeply flawed and prejudiced system of higher education. Horowitz devotes most of his book to criticizing individual professors, reserving 55 of 377 pages to explain his motivation and methodology. Relying upon a series of case-studies – of Ward Churchill and Lawrence Summers, among others - Horowitz refers to his critique as “a chilling indictment of an entire system.”
Claiming use of a method similar to prosopography, Horowitz reveals four troublesome patterns in modern institutions of higher education: (1) faculty are promoted far beyond their level of academic achievement on the basis of politically correct scholarship; (2) professors engage in political propaganda while teaching subjects outside their areas of professional or experiential qualification; (3) professors are permitted to make racist and ethnically insulting remarks publicly without any substantial response from administrators, so long as those remarks target unprotected groups (“i.e. Armenians, whites, Christians, and Jews”; (4) Academic discipline and agenda-neutral scholarly inquiry are now subordinated to indoctrinational efforts by professors with overtly political agendas.
His analysis notes that “the radical left has colonized a significant part of the university system and transformed it to serve its political ends.” This takeover of the university was accomplished in the 1970s, he says, when a wave of political activists achieved faculty-level positions at universities across the nation and enlisted the academic institution itself as a weapon in their advocacy for sociopolitical positions. As group-polarization reinforced this left-wing “echo-chamber of approbation,” the university system emerged as a safe-haven for extremists on the radical sociopolitical left. Horowitz notes that liberal and democratic majorities have increased dramatically in recent years relative to the academic advancement of conservatives or republicans, and explicitly argues that these disparities are the result of institutionally-rooted political and ideological discrimination.
Interdisciplinary fields devoted to the study of women, African-Americans, gender and sexuality, social justice, peace, and whiteness occupy a significant role in this historical analysis. These departments were shaped by “narrow, one-sided political agendas” and “attacked American foreign policy and the American military, others America’s self-image and national identity. Taken together, these new realms of academic inquiry provided open forums for political indoctrination, the “recruitment of students to radical causes,” and exploration of radical theories. Unsurprisingly, Horowitz devotes the majority of his individual critiques to faculty well-known in these or related fields.
According to Horowitz, the number of faculty that regularly violate guidelines of academic integrity and freedom is approximately 25,00-30,000. This analysis, which assumes that five percent of all college and university faculty (of whom there are 617,000 in the United States) are “radical,” suggests that literally millions of students face the indoctrination each year of dangerous and anti-intellectual ideas. These professors have abandoned a ‘liberal philosophy of education, where the professional responsibility of educators is to elevate students’ ability to think, not hand them the correct opinions.”
The roots of this problem run deep, but one of the primary causes identified by Horowitz is the so-called “Revolution by Search Committee.” Noting that department chairs and other tenured faculty play a dominant role in the university hiring process, and observing a fortiori that these individuals are rarely answerable to any higher administrative authority, Horowitz decries the subversion of this review process for partisan ends. Quoting a number of conservative faculty who claim to have witnessed discrimination on the basis of sociopolitical beliefs in the course of such tenure-review or hiring processes, Horowitz asserts more broadly that the entire institutional structure is flawed. In further support of this claim, Horowitz observes that more than 90% of the faculty targeted in his book hold tenure-level professorships at colleges and universities around the country.
Horowitz singles out fourteen history professors for criticism (this number is somewhat subjective, as many of these faculty hold interdisciplinary positions). See below for a list of these individuals and their home institutions. A number of these faculty refused to comment on the book; they indicated they did not want to give his claims legitimacy by responding to them. As noted by Edward Peters, a professor of medieval history at the University of Pennsylvania, “The historical profession … has its own professional standards which include peer review. I don't think the profession has much noted the concerns of David Horowitz.” Along a similar vein, Regina Austin -- a Penn Law professor criticized by Horowitz – responded by affirming that “I have better things to do than worry about this … You can't let your enemies set your agenda."
It seems increasingly unlikely, however, that the critiques leveled by Horowitz will simply go away. The book is endorsed by Rep. Jerry Lewis (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom (Professors at Harvard University), Laura Ingraham (host of the Laura Ingraham Show), and a slew of state senators and representatives. With such politically and intellectually powerful backers, and a public increasingly aware of issues relating to academic freedom (a number of court cases and legislative acts have recently captured media attention), it appears possible that academia may soon be forced to take David Horowitz as seriously as he would like.
Three Responses to Horowitz from Targeted History Faculty
Emma Pérez: Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder (p. 300 of The Professors)
Accusation by Horowitz : Expressing “full and unconditional support of Ward Churchill and his first amendment rights,” and of ideological bias in regard to her scholarship of feminist and Chicana history.
Response: “I’m honored to be on a list with scholars whom I respect for their scholarship as well as their commitment to making the academy a place where divergent opinions can be expressed and debated. Clearly, I’m on the list because I supported my colleague’s first amendment rights; however, my subject position, as a Chicana historian, a feminist and a lesbian, makes me an easy target for those who prefer to silence those whose histories are finally being uncovered. The post-1960s presented a dramatic change in historical research when social history offered a method to “do history from the bottom-up.” The working classes, women and men of wide-ranging races, ethnicities and sexualities could be excavated from documents. Concurrently, college campuses were also changing as diverse racial groups of students and faculty were finally admitted in higher numbers and while those numbers plummet on my own campus, the change is already here. Women’s history, along with other burgeoning fields of study, will continue to mature on college campuses despite the current drive to censure those whom Mr. Horowitz and his supporters find unworthy of constitutional rights.”
Joel Beinin: Professor of Middle Eastern History, Stanford University (p. 52 of The Professors)
Accusation by Horowitz: Supported Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait, refers to suicide bombers as “martyrs,” and appeared on Al-Jazeera to denounce American “imperialism”
Response : "Mark LeVine has already published a refutation and correction in his History News Network blog in response to the original article by Alyssa Lappen on which this material is based. . I wonder whether, in your review of The Professors, you will comment on the charges made on the book's dust jacket that the "101 academics ... happen to be alleged ex-terrorists, racists, murderers, sexual deviants, anti-Semites, and al-Qaeda supporters." Of course, I am none of these. Perhaps you should ask Horowitz to explain whether these statements represent his views and whether these are supposed to be facts or merely slurs he feels free to throw around."
Juan Cole: Professor of History, University of Michigan (p. 100 of The Professors)
Accusation by Horowitz: “Believes that a “pro-Likud” cabal controls the American government from a small number of key positions within the executive branch (p.100)”
Response: “David who?”
List of History Faculty in David Horowitz’s New Book, “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America”
Marc Becker : Associate Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University
Joel Beinin : Middle Eastern History Professor, Stanford University
Mary Frances Berry : Professor of American Social Thought and History, University of Pennsylvania
Juan Cole : Professor of History, University of Michigan
Angela Davis : Professor of the History of Conscious, UC Santa Cruz
Eric Foner : Profess of History, Columbia University
Yvonne Haddad : Professor the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Georgetown University
Caroline Higgins : Professor of Peace, Global Studies, and History, Earlham College
Peter Kirstein : Professor of History, Saint Xavier University
Vinay Lal : Associate Professor of History, UC Los Angeles
Mark Levine: Associate Professor of History, UC Irvine
Manning Marable : Professor of History and Political Science, Columbia University
Joseph Massad : Assistant Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History, Columbia University
Emma Perez : Associate Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder
SOURCE: New Republic ()
Robert L. Carter was Marshall's own second guy, and Carter believes that these words apply with at least equal force to his old boss. Carter worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (commonly referred to as LDF) in the 1940s and 1950s, holding titles such as assistant special counsel and deputy counsel. In this age of rampant title inflation, these labels fail to capture the scope of Carter's role in re-shaping the nation's conception of race. Carter wrote many LDF briefs, formulated trial strategies, and argued a number of the organization's appellate cases. Put simply, every endeavor that LDF undertook during its most pivotal era bears Carter's imprint. When the organization litigated bus segregation in Montgomery, it was Carter rather than Marshall who, from the outset of the lawsuit, worked with local counsel to secure the legal victory that eliminated the need for boycotters. ...