Sean Wilentz: Comes in for criticism by the Weekly Standard

Historians in the News

THE SCRAPBOOK was pleased the other morning when two paperback volumes crossed our desk, courtesy of Princeton University Press. It seems that they are the opening editions of something called the James Madison Library in American Politics, which is "devoted to reviving important American political writings of the recent and distant past." Sean Wilentz, Princeton history professor and stalwart defender of the Democratic faith, is general editor. And the two books in question are The New Industrial State by John Kenneth Galbraith (1967) and The Conscience of a Conservative (1960) by Barry Goldwater.

As a veteran trend-spotter, THE SCRAPBOOK has noticed with dismay that modern reprints almost always feature "new forewords" by contemporary windbags to explain to us poor readers what, exactly, we are reading and, worst of all, to give us the latest thinking on the subject. Alas, the James Madison Library in American Politics is no exception. The Galbraith tome features an admiring "new foreword" by Prof. James K. Galbraith who, to our great surprise, considers his late Dad's work "a landmark" in economic writing and a "great work of theory." The Goldwater book contains a new foreword by George F. Will.

Then we noticed that The Conscience of a Conservative is blessed with something that The New Industrial State is not: A "new afterword" as well! But instead of choosing someone whose views might be worth pondering, Professor Wilentz recruited, of all unlikely people, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., recovering heroin addict and radio conspiracy theorist, who supplies a 17-page diatribe that, for sheer incoherence and irrelevance, must be endured to be believed.

Paying barely a moment's attention to the Goldwater text, Kennedy swerves from harangues about Wall Street "shills" and "authoritarian preachers, mean-spirited cable-TV bully boys, and AM hate-radio jocks" to "the acerbic politics of Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay . . . Karl Rove's swift-boating of White House critics and the coordinated media thuggery of Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Bob Novak, and Sean Hannity, with all of their empty accusations about liberals as traitors."

Well! Since Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is currently engaged as public advocate for his cousin Michael Skakel, convicted murderer of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, THE SCRAPBOOK chooses not to engage him on his curious outburst. Our question, instead, is for Professor Wilentz: Why a hostile riposte to Goldwater, but not to Galbraith? We would suggest, in the second edition, a "new afterword" for The New Industrial State by someone with a clear view of Galbraithian nonsense and superior academic credentials to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Say, Ann Coulter.

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