Hammarskjold’s Mask

Markings

by Dag Hammarskjöld, translated by Leif Sjöberg, by W.H. Auden, with a Foreword by W.H. Auden
Knopf, 222 pp., $4.95

We are all vulgar Marxists now. The important question about a public man is what interests he represents. His quirks of character may provide variations, attractive or repulsive, upon the central theme; and he will have a private life and private loyalties that may harmonize or conflict with his social role. It is probably important that the private sphere should be known about and should be acceptable if a public man is to be successful. It will be remembered that it was a great and, before the presidential election, unanswerable question whether or not Kennedy’s Catholicism would be a dire impediment to the highest success in politics. It was apparently considered a disadvantage that President Eisehhower should have been denominationally unattached; and it will be remembered that this disadvantage was overcome by his electing to become a Presbyterian. Had it been thought in either case that a particular denominational affiliation would have had decisive consequences for decisions on matters of high policy, that the private sphere would have impinged in a dramatic way upon the public sphere, then what was (as it turned out) no serious disadvantage to Kennedy and a positive advantage to Eisenhower would have stood in the way of success in politics. Indeed, in a society which professes religious and therefore, within limits, moral pluralism as a matter of principle, this is how it has to be. It is perhaps ironical that the two dire impediments to the highest success that probably still remain in American politics are not matters subject, as religious affiliations are, to personal choice. They are being a Jew or being a Negro.

The vulgar Marxism which sees the springs of political action in the interests of groups rests in part upon an inability to conceive of any other rationale for politics. It is true that the group in question is sometimes thought to be the national community. But statesmen are the spokesmen of political parties. How are these to be explained, if not as coalitions of interests? There may be, men certainly think there are, common interests: and the belief in these is reflected by such a slogan as that of a “bi-partisan foreign policy.” And criticism of the foreign policy of the present Administration rests upon the view that the President and his Republican and Democratic supporters misunderstand what the common interest requires, not that they are supporting one sectional interest against another. Nevertheless, setting aside the very broadest issues of policy, the vulgar Marxist model seems to work well enough, though of course to say that a man is the spokesman of an interest does not entail that he knows how to choose what is in fact in the interest of the group he represents. And if democracy implies a consensus about political methods—roughly, that those who come to power by the prescribed procedures don’t use their power seriously to inhibit, or to kill, their political opponents or radically to alter the electoral procedures agreed upon—then …

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