McCarthyism, Past and Present
In Victor Navasky’s piece “McCarthyism & Trump” [April 24/May 1], the author quotes from a New York Post column by my father, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., on July 7, 1950, in which he sympathizes with the proposal that the US government name the Communist Party a “criminal conspiracy,” with its members subject to prosecution as “co-conspirators.” According to Navasky’s own authoritative book, Naming Names, my father was, in fact, musing, as columnists sometimes do, about somebody else’s idea, in this case the notion put forward in a judicial opinion written by an associate justice of the Supreme Court, Robert Jackson.
In his own book The Vital Center, however, my father writes that “the traditions of free society…[restrain it] from outlawing the Communist Party,” and “it is hard to argue that the [Communist Party] in peacetime presents much of a threat to American society.” Further in the same book, he praises the fact that, as regards racial segregation in the United States, “in countless small ways across the country Communists performed commendable individual acts against discrimination.” My father also took other actions at the time, for example openly denouncing the practice by students at Harvard University of barring Communist speakers from the campus. Of course, all this does not change the fact that his views of Communism in general, shared with other members of Americans for Democratic Action like Eleanor Roosevelt, were strongly distrustful. But for all of this, Senator Joseph McCarthy himself in 1952 twice publicly denounced my father as being a Communist because, as he claimed, Schlesinger “would ridicule religion and advise that Communists be allowed to teach in our schools, just as he has.”
new york city
Victor Navasky Replies
I’m pleased to accept Stephen Schlesinger’s view that his father was “musing” rather than advocating. However, my larger point was that during the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War years, too many liberals, including Arthur Schlesinger Jr., forgot their liberal humanism when it came to Communists and their so-called “fellow travelers.” For example, in the early 1950s, when The Nation’s Carey McWilliams and other left-liberals signed the call for a civil-liberties conference, Schlesinger wrote that “none of these gentlemen is a Communist, but none object very much to communism,” and further called them “typhoid Marys of the left”—leading McWilliams to say in the New Statesman that “Schlesinger speaks the language of McCarthyism with a Harvard accent.”
new york city