January 25, 2008
A recent NR review by Ronald Radosh of M. Stanton Evans’s defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Blacklisted by History, has caused me to think about two phases of the postwar conservative movement. The first of these phases, and the one from whence Evans himself comes, took place in the 1950s, when McCarthyism became a pillar of the National Review ideology. Looking at the magazine’s issues back then and reading that controversial work by WFB and his brother-in-law, Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies (1954), one finds out how critical a watershed McCarthy’s career was for self-described conservatives of that period. As an Austrian Ã©migrÃ© Willi Schlamm stressed in his introduction to Buckley-Bozell, the battle of that epoch was not simply about a particular Wisconsin senator but also about the defense of Western civilization, which for Schlamm took the form of “McCarthyism.”
Although not all of NR‘s contributors shared this view, and the exceptions included such illustrious figures as Russell Kirk and Whittaker Chambers, for many others on the right, McCarthy’s crusade against Communist subversion defined their early lives. When I once visited the Republican museum in Ripon, Wisconsin (near McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton), the curator told me that the display of McCarthy’s memorabilia received special attention from local patrons. When the curator also noted that “some people think he hurt the party,” I immediately shot back “Don”t believe it! He was great patriot.” Yes, I, too, had been a McCarthyite in my gut. My father had once referred to the Senator as a “real American” and I was strengthened in my predilection for him when I read NR in its early years.
While I no longer share Evans’s unbounded admiration for Tailgunner Joe, I remain suspicious of people who fly into a rage over anti-Communism and over what the Stalinoid Lilian Hellman called the “scoundrel times” of the 1950s. I still agree with Irving Kristol’s powerful observation, composed while he was still supposedly on the left in 1952, “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. And the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with justification.” The hysterical anti-anti-Communism I have witnessed in the academic world over the last forty years, plus the outbreak of “antifascist” totalitarian politics throughout the West following the implosion of the Soviet block, have led me to look askance at anti-McCarthyites of all stripes”even while understanding the excesses of McCarthy’s investigative methods.
For the record, however, I agree with Radosh that Evans may understate the recklessness of McCarthy’s charges against Gen. George Marshall, who served on the whole with honor as Truman’s Secretary of State. Evans also underplays the Senator’s bombastic attacks on the patriotism of the military, attacks that may have been influenced by the sordid affair between the senator’s counsel, Roy Cohn, and Cohn’s male lover C. David Schine, who had been drafted and who later tried to get out of the army. McCarthy’s bestowing of favors on this clownish pair, which included pleasure trips bestowed on them at government expense to investigate pro-Communist holdings in the USIA’s libraries in Europe, might have been as harebrain as Radosh suggests. Certainly there is more than enough to criticize about the swashbuckling anti-Communist from Wisconsin, before he fell from power and died of cirrhosis.
What is omitted, however, from most assaults on the McCarthyites, and from Radosh’s brief is the (for me) self-evident hypocrisy of those Republican leaders, who during the Democratic “decade of treason,” had been mute when transparent oversights occurred, namely when the Democratic administration whitewashed Soviet crimes and indulged the “antifascist” Communists in the United States. From their initial reluctance to get involved in “another European war,” the Republicans had moved on to becoming less than serious adversaries of the Democrats, and they remained that until long after the War was over. Indeed some of the staunchest opponents of the Soviets came from the right wing of the Democratic administration, e.g., James Forrestal and Joseph Grew. The Republicans were playing catch-up as the weaker national party by focusing exclusively on the catastrophic mistakes of the Democrats that they, as well as their opponents, had made by allowing Communist agents to reach high places in the government.
I am surprised by Radosh’s assertion, printed by the way in a magazine in which Buckley as late as 1989 correctly noted Owen Lattimore’s longtime Communist association, that McCarthy was misrepresenting Lattimore. From the investigative reports of Anthony Kubek down to the work of the very centrist Arthur Herman, abundant evidence is available for Lattimore’s intense devotion to the Communist Party. As a longtime board member of the Communist-controlled Institute of Pacific Relations and as a shameless flatterer of Stalin and his economically just “democracy,” Lattimore was a Communist apologist of the most extreme kind. (Radosh’s attempt to understate his loyalty by calling him a “shill” is much too exculpatory.) According to Herman, Lattimore might have been an actual party member but such technicalities should not even matter. Would Radosh deny that someone who hung out with Nazis and gave a Nazi salute beneath a swastika in 1942 should have been treated as a Nazi collaborator? If only he and other anti-communists of the Left could feel the same strong anger against Soviet lackeys, namely, those types whom the early National Review had had the temerity to notice and denounce!
Although Evans has done exhaustive research for this book, clearly he is going through a topic that has already been the subject of many previous studies”and not all of them by liberals. Radosh asks why another book on McCarthy should seem necessary. What seems to be happening is that fulltime “movement conservatives,” who started their activism about fifty years ago, feel an urgent need to show that their anti-Communist careers had been fully vindicated. And what better way to do that than by defending the turbulent career of the most controversial American anti-Communist, and the one most hated on the Left.
Far be it from me to disparage this particular concern, one that seems far more relevant than the current yak-yak about “islamofascist” threats. The intelligentsia and the political class have never really come to terms with the enormity of Communist crimes in the 20th century, and they have diverted attention from the murderous regimes they once defended by conjuring up imaginary Nazi enemies. For having documented the mendacity of American apologists for Stalin and for his accomplices, old-time movement conservatives, including Evans, deserve our praise.
But there is another (for me) more problematic side of this story. Basic to the “conservative movement” since the 1980s, in the same way as anti-Communism had defined the Right during the McCarthy era, is the rise of the neoconservative power elite. My book-length studies of the postwar American Right dwell on this development and there is therefore no need to expand on it here. What allowed the takeover to go forward is that scads of helpers offered their services to the recently arrived powerbrokers. The degree of collaboration often took alarming forms, and sometimes that collaboration involved people turning their backs on long-term associations in order to please the occupying forces. The question I would pose to these old-timers, who have clung to the movement and even taken neoconservative funding over the years, is why they believe their anti-Communist militancy should count for more than their years of truckling to the neoconservatives.
There were those Southerners who (to their everlasting credit) pulled out of the movement after the neocons had destroyed the career and what remained of the life of that Southern gentleman Mel Bradford. I have known such people, and they never regretted they had taken a principled position, even after having suffered financially and socially for their stand. At the same time, I have less pleasant memories of other acquaintances of the 1980s, of self-identified movement conservatives fawning on the neoconservatives in National Review and in various policy institutes. While WFB undoubtedly set the most extreme and most abject example of such accommodation, there were others who acted just as opportunistically, as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Back in the 1980s, I noticed how aging veterans showed up at the annual meetings of the Philadelphia Society to regale the young with stories about how they had “fought back against the Left.” Unfortunately most of these would-be warriors caved in when the Left came on the scene. All they apparently wanted was a pat on the back and a sinecure that would allow them, courtesy of their new patrons, to write about past heroic battles.
Evans’s defense of McCarthy, an ambitious book recently savaged in the reconstructed NR, typifies the kind of exercise that the veterans of the wars of the 1950s are inclined to produce. Such writing is, among other things, a rite of self-justification, but the people who publish them were in some cases not equally courageous in standing up to the leftist invasion of their movement in the 1980s. The changes these veterans have learned to live with are the price of their collaboration; and the acceptance of that price has made it harder and harder to go on praising and condemning particular heroes of the Old Right. Robert E. Lee, Joe McCarthy and Robert Taft, to give just three examples, are no longer morally acceptable to the leftward-racing establishment Right. M. Stanton Evans may now be learning about what happens to someone who stays in a compromised movement for too long. He has discovered a bitter truth that Mel Bradford, Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis, Clyde Wilson, Claes Ryn, Russell Kirk, Boyd Cathy, Peter Stanlis, and George Panichas could all have explained to him 20 years ago. You see there were people back then, even outside the South, who wised up in a hurry. But in Stan’s case perhaps better late than never.