Saving My Soul at the Plaza

To my surprise, “The Committee for the Free World, Midge Decter Executive Secretary,” invited me to attend its conference on “Our Country and Our Culture,” February 12-13, at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Admission, $50. I confess that whenever I see a piece of print reading “The Committee for the Free World, Midge Decter Executive Secretary,” I laugh. I’m reminded of a young reporter, who was granted an interview in the Oval Office with President Lyndon Johnson, and so exasperated Johnson by his bumbling questions that the great man, rising to his full 6 feet 3 1/2 inches, sputtered in indignation: “How can you ask a chicken-shit question like that of the Head of the Free World?”

For all the contemptuousness and rigidity of the views I first observed years ago at a Dalton School PTA meeting, Midge Decter’s easy laughter still persuades me that in this “neoconservative” there is a cynic waiting to be let out. Although she surprised me by going public to excoriate homosexuality, liberated women, and protestant clergymen foolish enough to worry over Lebanese children without a roof over their heads, I confess to affection for Midge. I cannot resist her smile of worldly experience. When I called her to accept the invitation, admitting that I was surprised to be asked, she cheerfully said: “It’s not too late to save your soul.”

The Committee for the Free World is not exactly a committee, though I am sure it is run like one by the local presidium, drawn largely from Commentary‘s staff and writers, whose struggle against international communism earned the Committee a grant (in 1981) of $100,000 in Mellon money from the Carthage Foundation in Pittsburgh. The Committee is the latest and most aggressive of those bodies of former leftist intellectuals, in the tradition of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which, concentrating on the danger of communism abroad and at home, still consider themselves an avant-garde of sorts. Unlike the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, however, which fell apart in dissension over McCarthyism because many members still considered themselves liberals, radicals, democratic socialists, and would not wish to become fellow travelers of Senator Taft, James Burnham, William F. Buckley, Jr., and tutti quanti, the Committee for the Free World is a straightforward rightist organization—for former liberals and former leftists.

This avant-garde has personal and political ties with the Reagan administration, can always be depended upon to support Begin and to ignore much of what goes on in South Africa. It is part of that astonishingly wide “conservative” network in America represented by Social Democrats USA, Freedom House, the current United States delegation to the United Nations, the magazines Commentary, The National Review, The American Spectator, The New Criterion, Mainstream, The American Scholar, and The Public Interest, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the evangelists behind the …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.
Letters

Saving the Free World: An Exchange May 12, 1983