Port Jefferson, NY



Port Jefferson, NY

Daniel Lazare’s review/essay on Tocqueville [“L’Amérique, Mon Amour,” April 26] is tendentious. No doubt any review of an important book has to be selective. But it is curious that Lazare doesn’t seem to recognize that Tocqueville is writing neither as a historian nor as a political scientist (and still less as a travel writer, as Lazare at one point suggests in another put-down) but as an engaged political philosopher. It is not “L’Amérique, Mon Amour” that concerns Tocqueville but democracy–which for Tocqueville is a problem rather than a solution.

That Lazare misunderstands (for polemical purposes) Tocqueville’s attempt to confront the problem of democracy is clear in his concluding paragraph. After a (distorted) presentation of Tocqueville’s politics with regard to the 1848 revolution, he concludes that “there was nothing for him to do but retire to his estate” and to die. Lazare seems unaware that Tocqueville devoted those years to producing one of the most valuable attempts to understand the roots of the distortions of modern democracy by writing The Old Regime and the Revolution.

It is staggering that there is no mention of this work. It was not completed, but it is a worthy continuation of Democracy in America and an indispensable key to understanding not just Tocqueville’s America but, more important, to understanding the dilemmas confronting democratic politics today.



New York City

My essay attacked Tocqueville on a number of grounds–for his equation of local political practice in the United States with democracy in general, for his argument that America was somehow immune to revolution, and for his uncritical espousal of a Jeffersonian concept of state sovereignty that the Civil War would soon discredit. Dick Howard addresses none of those issues and instead accuses me of being “tendentious.” He also accuses me of distorting Tocqueville’s position on the 1848 revolution so as to suggest that the author of Democracy in America had reached a political dead end. Howard evidently thinks this is unfair, but unfortunately it is exactly what happened. Tocqueville opposed both the mass democracy that had erupted in the streets and Louis-Napoleon’s antidemocratic coup d’état, a crippling contradiction and one that left him little choice but to retreat to his estate and bury himself in his historical studies. I agree that for Tocqueville democracy was “a problem rather than a solution.” That is precisely why he found himself so paralyzed amid growing democratic upheaval.



Arlington, Va.

Our magazine regularly receives letters of surprise and encouragement that open with a telltale phrase like “as a lifelong progressive…” The surprise is that they would find so much to appreciate in a journal of the right. Michael Lind’s brilliant essay “A Tragedy of Errors” [Feb. 23] compels me to return those compliments. It is the best treatment of the neoconservative phenomenon I’ve seen, and our editors are connoisseurs of the subject. Surely Lind’s “Not since Stalin ordered the US Communist Party to go underground has an American political faction pretended to dissolve itself in public like this” deserves a prize as the sharpest polemical sentence of the new millennium (even if it might have given some pause to Nation editors of an earlier era). In any case, “as a (almost) lifelong conservative” I commend The Nation for this terrific essay, valuable to progressives, but even more so to conservatives, who could dearly use its wisdom if they are to begin restoring prudence and sanity to their own movement.

The American Conservative

Los Altos, Calif.

I thank Michael Lind for confirming that neocons are in fact liberals gone wrong. I have come to the conclusion that conservatives look for the ideal society in the past, whereas liberals look to the future. Progress, then, is a liberal idea, whereas the good old days are conservative. Neocons, however, look to their egregiously erroneous view of the future. Lind connects the dots.


Lawrence, NY

I have seen Richard Perle in interviews blandly call for regime change in Iran and Syria, a blockade of North Korea and treating France and Saudi Arabia as enemies; I can only conclude that he is a lunatic. David Brooks’s dismissal of criticism of neocons as anti-Semitism is a malicious slander. I find it striking that these neocon warriors have all avoided military experience (and are thus known as chickenhawks). I heartily agree with Senator Hagel that Perle should have gone into Iraq with the first wave of soldiers.



Ankara, Turkey

The myth of prophetic antifascism lives on. In his review of my biography The Red Millionaire [“Willi the Red,” Feb. 16], Russell Jacoby seeks to rehabilitate Willi Münzenberg as a “civilian general in the fight against fascism,” as “one of the few who foresaw the dangers of Nazism.” With these assertions, Jacoby displays astonishing historical ignorance about the Nazi rise to power. The real antifascist heroes of Weimar Germany were the Social Democrats, whom Münzenberg and his fellow Communists slandered relentlessly as “social fascists.” On not a single occasion between 1928 and 1933 did Münzenberg stoop to cooperate with Germany’s Socialists in the fight against fascism. He collaborated with the Nazis, most famously in promoting a plebiscite to bring down the Socialist government of Prussia, whose sizable police force was the last serious obstacle to a Nazi takeover. So, far from facing up to the consequences of the Communists’ disastrous strategy of cooperating with Hitler in 1931-32, Münzenberg continued attacking German Socialists until Stalin told him to stop in the summer of 1934.

Had Jacoby paid closer attention to my book, he would have learned that the German Popular Front against Hitler was doomed because Socialists could not stomach working with the Communists, who had done so much to smooth the Nazi path to power. This schism was the greatest tragedy in the history of the European left, and yet Jacoby seems unaware of it. Perhaps he missed Chapters 12, 13 and 15?

As for Münzenberg’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1933, I am accused of wishing my “protagonist to die in a concentration camp” because I point out that party comrades like Walter Ulbricht criticized him severely for his swift flight and that Ulbricht exploited Münzenberg’s reputation for “cowardice” to great effect when he wrested control of the German Communist Party from his rival in 1936.

Which brings me to the hoariest myth of all. Jacoby follows Münzenberg’s apologists in seeking out some sort of principled “break” with Moscow: “By 1939 he had had enough of his Soviet masters.” The truth is the exact opposite: His Soviet masters had had enough of him. Until Münzenberg was expelled from the party, against his will, he was still lobbying for new infusions of Kremlin cash, which, unfortunately for him, were no longer on offer. Is it really so controversial to point out such obvious, abundantly documented facts? As Jacoby himself admits of my scholarship, “the facts are here.”



Los Angeles

Sean McMeekin brings to the life of Willi Münzenberg a Hollywood knack for overstatement and a foaming anti-Communism. From his misleading title, The Red Millionaire, and overheated chapter headings like “Tango With the Devil” and “Follow the Money” to the conclusion, in which Münzenberg is charged with inspiring today’s suicide bombers, McMeekin constructs a cartoon of twentieth-century Communism. He calls the Communist International “the greatest terrorist conspiracy of the last century,” which sought to “destroy Western ‘bourgeois’ society by infiltrating its institutions from within.” He closes his book by gloating that in Münzenberg’s “ghastly death”–a suicide or murder–“there is a kind of justice, although for the millions of victims of communism, there will never be justice enough.” In charging Münzenberg with mass murder, McMeekin has lost all touch with reality. Münzenberg was not Eichmann; he was an editor, propagandist and publisher.

I have no desire to defend the sectarian (and disastrous) policies of German Communism, which Münzenberg for many years faithfully reflected. But if McMeekin wants to review that history, he may have to go beyond reading his own Chapters 12, 13 and 15. (He could also read them. He states in his letter that “on not a single occasion” did Münzenberg resist Nazism before 1933. He states in Chapter 13 that “repeatedly during spring and summer 1930, Münzenberg ran inflammatory stories exposing Nazi brutality.”)

His assertion that the schism between Socialists and Communists represents the “greatest tragedy” of the European left is hardly controversial, but he is wrong if he believes Münzenberg had much to do with it. The bad blood between Communists and Socialists goes back at least to the founding of the Third International and the 1919 murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by a Socialist government. Moreover, his effort to trumpet the Socialists as the “real-antifascist heroes of Weimar” fits with his black-and-white version of history, but with little else. For decades historians have explored the political paralysis of the German Socialists, what the Socialist Julius Branthaul called “German Social Democracy’s surrender before Fascism.” In the failure to stop Nazism there is plenty of blame to go around to Socialists and Communists alike.

However, McMeekin likes to keep things simple. The notion that the Communists “doomed” the “German Popular Front against Hitler” makes no sense. To the extent such an entity existed, it was an exile organization created by Münzenberg in Paris and had little future in Nazi Europe. Finally, McMeekin imagines he is bravely attacking “the hoariest myth of all” (a myth entertained by how many?) about his protagonist leaving the party. The claim that he was expelled kicking and screaming in February 1939 is not corroborated by the most careful study, Harald Wessel’s Münzenbergs Ende (in German); indeed it is contradicted by material in McMeekin’s own book.

Unfortunately, McMeekin prefers to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. Perhaps he should try screenwriting.



Tempe, Ariz.

Arthur Danto’s review of the Philip Guston exhibit [Dec. 29] mentions Guston’s references to the Ku Klux Klan. In 1934, Guston and Ruben Kadish attended mural workshops in Los Angeles taught by David Siqueiros, who, in 1935, invited them to Morelia, Mexico, to paint a mural at the very radical state university. The Struggle Against Terror and Fascism was completed that summer; one of its dominant themes is the Klan. Because of the influence of the radical university and the mural’s Catholic figures and symbols, it later became known as The Inquisition. The conservative Catholic majority did not receive the mural well, and in 1940 the church prevailed; the mural was painted over and forgotten. In 1975 during building reconstruction, it was discovered under painted cloth, which had preserved many of its original colors. The Southwest Heritage Foundation (440 East Southern Avenue, Tempe, AZ 85282) is trying to restore the mural and place it in the context of radical US and Mexican mural painting of the 1930s and ’40s.


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