Conversations with Walter Lippmann
The value of Walter Lippmann—apart from his staying-power—has been his immunity to intellectual and political fashions, particularly to those of the 1930s. In the Thirties, while others were moving left, Lippmann moved to the right. He condemned Stalinism as a form of totalitarianism at a time when it was still fashionable to dismiss objections to the Soviet regime as evincing an old-maldish preference for “political” against “economic” democracy. Even the New Deal struck Lippmann as a dangerous centralization of power, and his skepticism about President Roosevelt—“a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President”—seemed so uncommonly perverse, in the midst of the general adulation, that historians are still apologizing for it. Later, when Lippmann attacked McCarthyism, developed reservations about Eisenhower (whom he supported in 1952), and called for a more conciliatory approach to Soviet Russia, he regained the esteem—the somewhat grudging esteem—of American liberals. But they never forgave him for his opposition to the New Deal. That remained the great exception to the rule, once more safely established, of Mr. Lippmann’s infallibility: an-aberration, an inexplicable lapse of judgment, a momentary fall from grace. But this lapse, if that is what it was and, in addition, his early opposition to communism, enabled Lippmann to weather the storms of the cold war where others foundered. It was not simply that, having established unimpeachable anti-communist credentials, he could not be dismissed when began to criticize the way the cold war was being fought. It was important, in the hysterical climate of the cold war, that he did not have to apologize to his detractors; but it was even more important that he did not have to apologize to himself. He escaped the ordeal of confession and expiation through which so many others thought they had to pass. It was not necessary for him to atone for past sins by a display of uncompromising anti-communism. So it came about that the conservative, the critic of Stalin, the opponent of Roosevelt, was able to emerge in the late Forties as one of the most effective and persistent critics of “containment.”
Once again Mr. Lippmann found himself out of step. The liberal press rang with cries for the suppression of militant communist expansion. Truman had become a hero, the defender of the free world; Acheson represented the highest development of the diplomatic art. Mr. Lippmann was not impressed. From the very beginning, when it became clear that we had abandoned the wartime alliance with Russia and had decided to gamble everything on a showdown with communism, Lippmann saw how these policies implied an effort, hopeless in the long run, to impose our will everywhere, even in Russia itself. He saw too how they committed us to a counterrevolutionary crusade. As early as 1945, the United States pushed through the admission of Peronist Argentina to the United Nations, violating earlier promises to Russia. Lippmann warned that we “had adopted a line …
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