In its tribute to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died on March 26, The Economist mentions that his office washroom displayed a framed cover of the September 22, 1979, issue of The Nation, “Moynihan: The Conscience of a Neoconservative.” Pat Moynihan thus had the rare distinction among politicians of inspiring an entire issue of The Nation, comprising critical analyses of his politics and policies (though there was praise as well). In the intervening years we could probably have assembled enough material for another Moynihan issue, but after being elected senator from New York in 1976, Moynihan became a less reliable neoconservative and a more conventional Democratic politician. Dapper and donnish, bibulous and charming, Moynihan was obviously ambitious, else he would have remained a comfortably tenured Harvard professor rather than building an eclectic government résumé that included assistant labor secretary in the Kennedy Administration, ambassadorships to India and the United Nations, as well as senator. In the 1960s he adopted the neoconservative views of Irving Kristol and other apostate liberals, his credentials burnished by his 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. As the black academic St. Clair Drake wrote in these pages in 1975, “Moynihan’s scholarship has been subordinated to advocacy, and he employs data to justify programs of action, not to test hypotheses,” which may explain the inflamed reception The Negro Family received. It was particularly resented by African-Americans, and it was the subject of a scholarly dissection by Herbert Gutman in our Moynihan issue.
Moynihan moved on to become the Nixon Administration’s house liberal, advising “benign neglect” of race issues (meaning, he said, cool the rhetoric, but giving comfort to neo-segs) telling off the Third World in the UN, where he won fame for denouncing the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution. His undiplomatic pugnacity put him in bad with his boss, Henry Kissinger, but won him a ticket to the Senate, where he would oppose welfare reform Clinton-style, various Reagan imperial adventures, Gulf War I and encroaching government secrecy.
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Herbert Aptheker, who died on March 17, at 87, was one of the first white historians to render truly the African-American experience. He was author of American Negro Slave Revolts, among many other books, and edited the monumental A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States and the writings and correspondence of his mentor W.E.B. Du Bois. He and his wife, Fay, were active members of the Communist Party until 1991, and this affiliation barred him from teaching positions until late in life. Columbia history professor Eric Foner says, “He was one of the key pioneers of modern African-American history. At a time when most scholars still held to the view that slavery was a benign institution with little slave resistance, that abolitionists were irresponsible fanatics, and that the Civil War was a family quarrel between white Americans, Aptheker challenged them to make blacks active agents in the telling of American history.”