Common Sense

In a Time of Torment

by I.F. Stone
Random House, 448 pp., $1.95 (paper)

I. F. Stone
I. F. Stone; drawing by David Levine

I.F. Stone is unfailingly contemporary, but he is a man of the Enlightenment. For he has faith in Reason, which most moderns do not, and he confesses to moral passion, which is unfashionable. Though he looks with distaste on most of what goes on in the United States today, he is outraged rather than desperate, and he has never lost confidence in the essential virtue and the ultimate good sense of his countrymen. He shares, too, something of the Enlightenment’s simplistic view of human nature and society, its tendency to see the world in terms of reason and folly, tyranny and liberty, virtue and vice. And he clings, somewhat wistfully, to an old-fashioned confidence in political solutions—a confidence always more pronounced in the New World than in the Old, but no longer very pronounced anywhere. He is, in short, a modern Tom Paine, celebrating Common Sense and the Rights of Man, hammering away at tyranny injustice, exploitation, deception, and chicanery with an eloquence that appeals even to the sophisticated who are most suspicious of eloquence. He shares, too, Paine’s impatience with the slow processes of history; his deep suspicion of men in power, or in office; his talent for invective and epigram. He is the last of that long succession of radical pamphleteers which includes Paine and Garrison and Theodore Parker, Henry George and E.A. Ross and Henry Demarest Lloyd, Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens and the Rev. A. J. Muste—crusaders all, champions of lost causes, never happier than when they had a fight on their hands, never more effective than when the causes they championed were desperate.

Like Tom Paine again, I.F. Stone is very much a solitary man, not in the least embittered or cantankerous, certainly not “alienated,” to use that popular cant word, but distrustful of organizations and technology and bigness. It is of course absurd that he should not be on the editorial staff of one of the great national papers—The New York Times, perhaps, or the Washington Post or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (the only newspaper with an editorial page as good as that of Stone’s Weekly)—but it is probable that he would not function well as part of a large and impersonal organization. His own Weekly is a kind of running intellectual autobiography, and therein lies much of its merit, for it reflects one mind and that reflection is steady and harmonious. This is all to the good, for it restores our faith in the ability of the individual to make an impression on American life; like Walter Lippmann, like Ralph Nader, like Senator Eugene McCarthy, Mr. Stone demonstrates that the individual still counts.

For fifteen years now Mr. Stone has been publishing his own paper, a modest affair of four pages of editorial comment, and this little news sheet, with a circulation of forty or fifty thousand, has had over the years an…

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