Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Dissed by Andrew Sullivan

Historians in the News

Derek Catsam, reviewing a blog posting by Andrew Sullivan:

Once again Andrew Sullivan shows his occasional tendencies toward intellectual sloppiness. To use his own self important phrase, let's"fisk" this piece (with a heading titled"Always Wrong" that should give you a hint of what follows) in his blog from Monday. In it he asserts the following,

Arthur Schlesinger, who has racked up perhaps the most impressive series of completely wrong judgments about politics for decades, comes back to memory in this posting from Virginia Postrel's blog:
Arthur Schlesinger, just back from a trip to Moscow in 1982, said Reagan was delusional."I found more goods in the shops, more food in the markets, more cars on the street -- more of almost everything," he said, adding his contempt for"those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink."
Yes, they really did think like that. They really thought that the Soviet Union wasn't evil - even admirable in some respects - as late as 1982!
Wow. Where to begin. First off, I like the"most impressive series of wrong judgments about politics for decades" line. What does this even mean?Schlesinger was an advisor in the Kennedy Administration who wished Kennedy had been stronger on civil rights. He supported liberal policies on a range of issues. That sounds right to me. Maybe Sullivan disagrees. But more importantly, he takes a quotation out of context (citing from a blog, which was citing from a book review, citing from a book - oddly impressive in its slapdash way. But not so good on sourcing.) Then his conclusion is"They really thought like that." Really, Andrew? They? All of"them"? Never mind who"they" were. It's a nice and slimy form of innuendo to implicate anyone who might disagree with him -- demogoguery at its worst. Then we can get into the fact that Schlesinger can best be termed a Cold War Liberal. No delusions about the Soviets among that crowd. I would have assumed that Sullivan has heard of Americans for Democratic Action. Apparently not. On top of that, he concludes something that Schlesinger didn't, you know, actually say, and then in beautifully wretched writing ("They really thought that the Soviet Union wasn't evil -- even admirable in some respects -- as late as 1982." Read this sentence several times, and tell me that what is between the hyphens actually agrees with what comes before it. I expect this from sophomores.) ascribes some sinister view to all of those in that unidentified mass of"they." Does he mean Liberals? Please. Carter laid the foundation for Reagan's Afghanistan policy and military buildup, and all of this had to get by an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

I've said my piece on Reagan. But this is not really about Reagan. It is about Andrew Sullivan's double standard for rigor and fairness and intelligence. He thinks he's changing the world one well-funded blog post (and Time article) at a time. I read him daily because he is too smart to miss. But it seems that at least once a day he engages in this sort of sleazy damnation of all who do not agree with his cause du jour. It grows tiresome.

Arthur Schlesinger is not without his flaws, and it has been some time since he has been an especially relevant historian. But he deserves a lot more than this sort of lackwitted online thuggery from someone who holds critics of his side up to much higher standards.

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Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 6/18/2004

"They" includes J. Kenneth Galbraith and the curly haired MIT economist, whose name escapes me, as well as A.S., Jr. In fact, "they" included just about everyone in all the liberal institutions in America. In the past few days conservative organs have been dishing up the precise quotes and dates.