Arthur Schlesinger, Jr: Remembered at British memorial

Historians in the News

A memorial service in London's Reform Club on Monday celebrated the late Arthur Schlesinger, finest of American postwar historians. Lauren Bacall, Edna O'Brien and admiring academics, diplomats and friends sang his praises. In the library from where Phileas Fogg set off round the world in 80 days, Schlesinger's memory rounded it in 90 years.

Schlesinger was the best sort of historian, an arguing one. It was impossible to meet him, even in old age, without some exquisite dispute. He championed the New Deal and the Kennedy era. He espoused the British liberal tradition as the founding glue of the American adventure. Multiculturalists might not like it, he wrote in The Disuniting of America, but "to deny the essentially European origins of American culture is to falsify history". Above all, he believed in history as the "great explainer" of human affairs.

The finest eulogy came from William vanden Heuvel, quoting from Schlesinger himself in a talk last December that was aimed straight between the eyes of the Bush administration. "History is a moral necessity for a nation which is the world's dominant military power," said Schlesinger. "It is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience." History forever reminded us "of the limits of our passing perspectives . . . of our profound and chastening frailty as human beings". ...

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