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Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dies


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Only recently I came across a newspaper account from 1966 in which Schlesinger called for a new investigation of the assassination. Richard Goodwin did as well. Both supported Bobby in 68. I suspect Talbot's book will get into Bobby's feelings about the Warren Commission and the assassination in general, and state that Bobby, under the influence of Schlesinger, Goodwin, and Mankiewicz, planned on re-investigating the case, if elected.

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Only recently I came across a newspaper account from 1966 in which Schlesinger called for a new investigation of the assassination. Richard Goodwin did as well. Both supported Bobby in 68. I suspect Talbot's book will get into Bobby's feelings about the Warren Commission and the assassination in general, and state that Bobby, under the influence of Schlesinger, Goodwin, and Mankiewicz, planned on re-investigating the case, if elected.

I'm seriously looking forward to Talbot's book. Between his creation of Salon, the best journalism site on the web, and his apparent dedication to truth about President Kennedy, he's making a mighty fine impression.

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Arthur Schlesinger once commented on the American's people tendacy to resort to violent action (a subject recently discussed on the forum). He traced this back to a society that embraced slavery and the resulting impact on ideas about equality. He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism".

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Arthur Schlesinger once commented on the American's people tendacy to resort to violent action (a subject recently discussed on the forum). He traced this back to a society that embraced slavery and the resulting impact on ideas about equality. He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism".

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"He traced this back to a society that embraced slavery and the resulting impact on ideas about equality. He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism"."

The thought of which is a paradoxicality, in and of itself. But, a wise one, none the less.

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Arthur Schlesinger once commented on the American's people tendacy to resort to violent action (a subject recently discussed on the forum). He traced this back to a society that embraced slavery and the resulting impact on ideas about equality. He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism".

Oh yeah. In the US we're constantly programmed to believe this country was built on democratic ideals. In fact it was built on twin pillars of:

-Slavery. In spite of the Declaration of Independence claim that "All men are created equal." What a whopper of a lie. Guys in powdered wigs ranting about the horrors of taxation without representation and dumping tea into a harbor. Later generations owning slaves.

-Denying the riff-raff the right to pick their president by concocting the Electoral College. I can't describe this any better than Gore Vidal (I can't describe anything better than Gore Vidal):

"I happen to be something of a student of the American constitution --it was set up in order to avoid majority rule. The two things the founding fathers hated were majoritarian rule and monarchy. So they devised a republic in which only a very few white men of property could vote. Then, to make sure that we never had any democracy at work at the highest levels of governance, they created something called the electoral college, which can break any change that might upset them. We saw what happened in November 2000, when Albert Gore won the popular vote by 600,000, he actually won the electoral vote of Florida, but a lot of dismal things happened and denied him the election. So that's what happened there. So for us to talk about a democracy that we are going to translate into other lands is the height of hypocrisy and is simply foolish."

http://www.counterpunch.org/vidal03142003.html

-And as Gore says, the refusal to let anyone but white men vote. (Ok, I said "twin pillars" then listed three; so sue me.)

Was any country ever built on a bigger foundation of hypocrisy?

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Arthur Schlesinger once commented on the American's people tendacy to resort to violent action (a subject recently discussed on the forum). He traced this back to a society that embraced slavery and the resulting impact on ideas about equality. He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism".

Oh yeah. In the US we're constantly programmed to believe this country was built on democratic ideals. In fact it was built on twin pillars of:

-Slavery. In spite of the Declaration of Independence claim that "All men are created equal." What a whopper of a lie. Guys in powdered wigs ranting about the horrors of taxation without representation and dumping tea into a harbor. Later generations owning slaves.

-Denying the riff-raff the right to pick their president by concocting the Electoral College. I can't describe this any better than Gore Vidal (I can't describe anything better than Gore Vidal):

"I happen to be something of a student of the American constitution --it was set up in order to avoid majority rule. The two things the founding fathers hated were majoritarian rule and monarchy. So they devised a republic in which only a very few white men of property could vote. Then, to make sure that we never had any democracy at work at the highest levels of governance, they created something called the electoral college, which can break any change that might upset them. We saw what happened in November 2000, when Albert Gore won the popular vote by 600,000, he actually won the electoral vote of Florida, but a lot of dismal things happened and denied him the election. So that's what happened there. So for us to talk about a democracy that we are going to translate into other lands is the height of hypocrisy and is simply foolish."

http://www.counterpunch.org/vidal03142003.html

-And as Gore says, the refusal to let anyone but white men vote. (Ok, I said "twin pillars" then listed three; so sue me.)

Was any country ever built on a bigger foundation of hypocrisy?

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"-Slavery. In spite of the Declaration of Independence claim that "All men are created equal." What a whopper of a lie. Guys in powdered wigs ranting about the horrors of taxation without representation and dumping tea into a harbor. Later generations owning slaves."

Guys in powdered wigs owning something near 200 slaves between them, if I remember correctly.

"Then, to make sure that we never had any democracy at work at the highest levels of governance, they created something called the electoral college, which can break any change that might upset them. We saw what happened in November 2000, when Albert Gore won the popular vote by 600,000, he actually won the electoral vote of Florida, but a lot of dismal things happened and denied him the election. So that's what happened there. So for us to talk about a democracy that we are going to translate into other lands is the height of hypocrisy and is simply foolish."

And, did you ever notice how they teach U.S. Government in your high schools? Trying to get a bead on, let alone, comprehend what the "Electoral College" was all about, was like attempting to decipher the Rosetta Stone, or The Dead Sea Scrolls. Totally disproportionate to what you'd expect to find in university. I never fully understood its meaning until I was in my twenties and allowed to voice my opinion at what I perceived to be the absurdity and unilateral unfairness of the concept, without risking a low C, or a D, for my efforts.

"...is the height of hypocrisy and is simply foolish."

"So for us to talk about a democracy that we are going to translate into other lands...is the height of hypocrisy and completely sophomoric, on our part." [is how I would've phrased it. Although, I'd much rather preferred, "imbecilic" to sophomoric.] Then again, I'll never be able to shine Gore Vidal's shoes, for that matter. It's what separates the wheat from the chaff, if you will.

Me being the chaff, and all. ;)

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Remembering Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Norman Birnbaum

I first met Arthur when I came to Harvard as a graduate student in sociology in 1947, and had the good fortune to see a good deal of him. From 1949 to 1952 I was a Resident Tutor at Adams House, with which Arthur was associated, and we were often together at lunch. We had good friends in common, the philosopher and historian of American intellectual life, Morton White and his wife and co-author Lucia. (Arthur was justly enthusiastic about Morton's splendid book on Beard, Dewey, Holmes, William James and Veblen, Social Thought In America.)

Arthur was a stimulating, even inspiring, figure in one major respect. Imperial Harvard in those years prided itself on two things. One was its closeness to power: commuting to Washington gave members of faculty great status. It was the period in which the similarity between the Harvard faculty and the Strategic Air Command was noted: one third of each was airborne at any given moment. The second was academic and disciplinary rigor. What was missing, or distinctly under-emphasized, were ideas. (I recall the skepticism, verging on derision, with which the cognoscenti at Harvard greeted Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, with one later eminent historian telling me: she knows no history.) It was a period in which a clever undergraduate could manage very well for four years l with a very limited reading list: Max Weber's The Protestant Ethos and the Spirit of Capitalism, Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, and Melville's Moby Dick. This last stood for a "tragic" approach to life---something most people at Harvard had not entirely experienced.

Arthur, with his combative involvement in politics, his public arguments on the nascent Cold War with lively colleagues like H. Stuart Hughes and Perry Miller, his attentiveness to events abroad (he was at the founding event of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Berlin), his realization of the importance of Marxism even as he denounced Stalinism, conveyed the immediacy of the history we were living. He was, briefly, no technocrat---and that set him apart from most of the discreet counselors to the Congress and the Executive Branch who populated the social sciences in Cambridge.

Arthur was, of course, a cultural and social historian. He later apologized for ignoring Andrew Jackson's racism toward blacks and Indians, indeed, his exterminationist views of the Native Americans. He wasn't the only one. In sociology, what I did not hear about were class, gender and race in the United States. Per contra, there was a great deal of labored discussion about constructing a "science" of society or of "human action." (Morton White termed it "methodolatry.") I recall one conversation in which Arthur, skeptical about the claims of my teachers that they were constructing a natural science of society, asked Talcott Parsons what he was doing. "We are splitting the sociological equivalent of the atom," was Talcott's reply. I had come to Harvard to study sociology because as an undergraduate at Williams I had read Max Weber on history, Karl Mannheim on ideas and society, and of course, Karl Marx.—after growing up in New York by reading the Beards and Veblen. I wasn't convinced that I should put on a white laboratory coat and regard history and social movements as matters to be dealt with by those who worked as the sociologists said, "impressionistically." (I was reminded of these decades later when I read the marvelous work on Impressionism by the art historian Terry Clark, who connected it to the rise of industrial capitalism and its effects on landscape and sight.)

I was in my early twenties and Arthur a national figure, but he took the time and trouble to encourage me in my doubts. Because of him (and Sam Beer, with whom I taught in General Education, and Morton White) I was able to achieve some critical distance from the reigning dogmas in sociology. Arthur disagreed strenuously with the diagnosis of American society

Advanced by Columbia's schismatic sociologist, C. Wright Mills, certainly an ancestor of the New Left-----but thought that it was important to argue with him. In a knowledge factory like Harvard, little human things went a long way. I recall with gratitude and pleasure the dinners Arthur and Marion gave for his graduate students: interesting figures from New York journalism or publishing or Washington politics were always there to remind us of a larger world. I had come to know Clement Greenberg and the New York intellectuals whose secular scriptures were Commentary and Partisan Review. Arthur was one of the few academics they recognized as one of their own: his writings had an irreducible pugnacity which made of him an honorary New Yorker.

I left Cambridge in 1952 to spend the next fourteen years in Europe, but a dinner

Party given by Carl and Annette Kaysen, with the other guests McGeorge and Mary Bundy and the Schlesingers sticks in memory. The discussion turned to Massachusetts politics, and I recall Bundy denouncing the Boston Irish with Brahmin certitude: they were a menace to American democracy if not to western civilization in its entirety. I do not recollect that the other two, who with Bundy went to the Kennedy White House, disagreed.

Europe, of course, opened new ideas and perspectives. I saw Arthur several times in those years, when he visited London or I returned to Cambridge. We disagreed about many things:

I had developed a great deal of skepticism about the morality of the Cold War in view of the dangers of nuclear extirpation it entailed. Arthur was impatient with these objections, if sympathetic with the social philosophy of Europe's democratic left. He was also one of the

Americans who understood (a legacy of his own studies of the American nineteenth century Catholic, Orestes Brownson) that the European churches were most certainly not reactionary institutions. He had a role, when in the White House, in persuading the President to allow the Italian Christian Democrats to take into governmental coalition the Italian Socialist Party, which had hitherto been allied with the Communists. There was considerable objection to this in the foreign policy apparatus, whose experts (stupidly) distrusted the Socialists and did not realize that the Vatican was decidedly more neutralist than this secular party. Arthur was right—but what he did not ask was whether the US should have been treating Italy as if it were a Latin American banana republic.

The entire notion of banana republics, rather than real ones, was the more essential issue---and here Arthur was not quite a dissenter. When in April of 1961, Kennedy allowed himself to be talked into the humiliating and immoral Bay of Pigs debacle, a group of American students and I, as an American on faculty, wrote from Oxford to Kennedy to protest. The British press gave this very large play, and Arthur telephoned me to say that the President was very disturbed by the letter. Did I think, however, that if the White House were to send him to Europe it might help to restore US standing in the eyes of a goodly segment of the European elite? I made it clear that the trip might have the opposite effect—but undertook to invite him to dinner at my college. He did not come, but characteristically bore no malice, and we next saw each other on Cape Cod that Fourth of July. Alfred Kazin gave a party in the house he had on Great Pond at Wellfleet, and Arthur had come up from Otis Air Force base further down the Cape, near Hyannis port. I recollect that there was an Air Force driver to convey him, but he could not be sent to the kitchen since it was an open plan house. He was visibly astonished by the assembled representatives of the intelligentsia at what passed for play---increasingly loud argument.

One final echo of that period resonates. I spoke with Arthur in his White House Office some days later, and he showed me a newspaper article by Isaac Deutscher with an early, very early, account of the Sino-Soviet conflict. (Deutscher had excellent sources in Poland amongst the reformers in the regime.) You know Deutscher, Arthur asked, was he to be trusted? Arthur, I replied, you have all the resources of the US government (CIA, Pentagon intelligence, the State Department): why do you need a lone leftist intellectual working in Hampstead? He thought my question showed a certain naiveté. Precisely because he had the CIA et al, he found Deutscher important, no, indispensable. I admired the historian's capacity to take a certain critical distance---even when at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Edited by William Kelly
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