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Saving the Free World: An Exchange

In response to:

Saving My Soul at the Plaza from the March 31, 1983 issue

To the Editors:

Not the least of Alfred Kazin’s many confusions in “Saving My Soul at the Plaza” [NYR, March 31] is his statement that “The New Criterion, supported in part by the John M. Olin Foundation, has its editorial offices at 460 Park Avenue in the office of the Olin Corporation….” In fact, for the first eleven months of its life, The New Criterion used space in the office of the John M. Olin Foundation, a charitable foundation with no connection to the Olin Corporation. What evidently has befuddled Mr. Kazin is that the Foundation was established by the late John M. Olin with his own money, which was derived from various business activities and then used (much in the manner of the Ford and Rockefeller fortunes) for philanthropic purposes. One can only wonder what Mr. Kazin might have made of the first day of the Committee for the Free World conference at the Plaza Hotel had he actually attended it and not relied so much on a short article in The New York Times; had he done his own research on The New Criterion rather than use the services of a surrogate, as he did in the case of our magazine, he would undoubtedly have been more accurate, though perhaps less suggestive.

Samuel Lipman

Publisher, The New Criterion

New York City

To the Editors:

I hope that Alfred Kazin did find a way to save his soul at the Plaza, but I fear that, in making the attempt, he inadvertently placed the soul of Academia at high risk. After some brief remarks about William Bennett, director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, he writes:

Before Dr. Bennett was finally named to head the endowment, Reagan nominated a Texas university expert on William Faulkner whose decisive contribution to our period was the disclosure that Abraham Lincoln had violated due process when he drew up the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free slaves still in Confederate hands. We must be grateful to Irving Kristol for helping to stop that particular appointment, which would have made for some strange political bedfellows indeed.

Having enjoyed and profited from Mr. Kazin’s witty if chilling article, I do not wish to badger him for a passing remark, especially since I suspect that he did not give it much thought and merely intended to lend some color to his discussion of other matters. Still, the case of M.E. Bradford—oh, yes, the “Texas university expert on William Faulkner” does have a name—has never struck me as funny, and Mr. Kazin has reminded me that it ought not to be put to rest so easily.

I neither know nor care whether Irving Kristol did Mr. Bradford in. Mr. Kristol has denied responsibility for the campaign of innuendo and slander to which Mr. Bradford was subjected, and I have no reason to doubt his word as a gentleman. The fact remains that Mr. Bradford was subjected to unprincipled attacks from persons unknown, or, rather, unidentified but nonetheless considered worthy of extensive press coverage.

Nor do I wish to slight Mr. Bennett, whom no one, to my knowledge, has accused of complicity or of doing more than advancing his own formidable credentials. And they are formidable: he did a superb job as head of the National Humanities Center, and, if I can believe my usually reliable sources, he has gotten off to a good start at the NEH.

Mr. Bradford is my concern. For Mr. Kazin’s dismissal of him as a Yahoo, which is what his characterization comes to, cannot be allowed to pass. Scholars often disagree widely in their judgment of a colleague’s work, but in this case I confess to being embarrassed at finding my own judgment so far removed from that of a scholar of Mr. Kazin’s stature and learning. Be that as it may, let me say It: I regard Mr. Bradford’s work on American intellectual history, southern history and literature, and related subjects as of exceptionally high quality. I learn much from him and doubt that I am alone in so doing. Indeed, I do wonder who among those who have served as directors of the NEH has had, in Mr. Kazin’s judgment, academic credentials higher, or even as high, as those of Mr. Bradford.

We have been told that Mr. Bradford has pilloried the great Abraham Lincoln. Indeed he has. Occasionally, he has even written something silly, but no more often than the rest of us. In pillorying Lincoln, he has been wrong on the main issue. In contrast, Mr. Kazin is right to recognize Lincoln’s greatness and to rise to his defense. In other words, were Mr. Kazin to enter the scholarly debate, he would enter on the side of the angels. So would Genovese and almost everyone else, even in the ranks of the conservatives. Mr. Bradford stands exposed for what he is—an unreconstructed southern traditionalist who, had he been born earlier, might have contributed to that Bible of Reaction, I’ll Take My Stand. And so much for any belated nomination of Allan Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, or Frank Owsley to head the NEH. (Indeed, Mr. Bradford recently contributed an essay to a sequel: see Fifteen Southerners, Why the South Will Survive, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981).

Mr. Bradford teaches at the University of Dallas—which is enough to discredit him. And never mind that the University of Dallas may be a fine place for all we know. I do not know, and neither, I suspect, do Mr. Bradford’s detractors. Clearly, if Mr. Bradford were any good, he would be teaching at a “great” university in New England or at least somewhere in the Northeast—well, maybe in the Midwest or the Bay Area. Possibly, Mr. Bradford loves Dallas—would you believe that some perfectly sane people do?—and would not move under any circumstances. But if he would like to move, I wonder just what “great” university even in the South would open its doors to someone with his kind of conservative views. I doubt that his credentials are inferior, for example, to those of the vast majority of professors at Yale. But if so brilliant, erudite, and gifted a conservative political scientist as Thomas L. Pangle could not get tenure there, I do not think that Mr. Bradford should hold his breath.

The newspapers, led by The New York Times and The Washington Post, ran stories on the Bradford case. The Times even ran an Op-Ed piece by a left-wing historian who somehow forgot to mention the nature and implications of the attacks on Mr. Bradford. The Times rejected my letter in response to that piece, and, probably, the letter was not very good. But I find it hard to believe that the Times did not get other letters that were worthy of publication. And if it did not, so much the worse for all of us.

The “news” stories hinted that Mr. Bradford is a Yahoo, a racist, a bigot, a neanderthal—a no-‘count, as they would say down home. And let me admit that he did not help himself. He is clearly not a political sophisticate, at least not by the standards of the eastern seaboard. He gave brief, blunt answers to impossible, entrapping questions, and, worse, he committed the cardinal sin of answering questions no one asked him—in response to which I confess that I sent him the recipe for boccachiusa from the Mafia Cook Book. Perhaps such a performance ought to have disqualified him. Perhaps Mr. Reagan concluded that in a tough town like Washington a strong dose of eastern “sophistication” has to go with the turf. If so, then the choice of Mr. Bennett was perfect, although I must again stress that he has a good many other requisite qualities. Still, I am not alone in having had unnerving experiences with sharp reporters who have orders to do the job, and I hope that I may be pardoned for taking those news stories cum grano salis.

What exactly were the complaints? First, Lincoln. Well, open the pages of Mr. Bradford’s fine book, A Better Guide than Reason: Studies in the American Revolution (La Salle, Ill.: Sherwood Sugden and Co, 1979) and turn to pages 185-203. You will find him there on the attack—and wrong as usual on the main point. You will also find him acute, reasonable, learned, and with important things to say. Of course I find Mr. Bradford wrong, but I nowhere find him trivial or factually in error or devoid of insight. I find him wrong because I do not share the political values that inform his reading of the sources. Is that surprising? Are we to accept as NEH directors only those whose politics we share? If so, then let us announce to the world—and to ourselves—that the directorship is just one more political plum and the NEH just one more dispenser of patronage. (Happily, I very much doubt that Mr. Bennett will himself succumb to that temptation.)

Those stories also suggested—they did not quite assume responsibility for alleging—that some people (who?) believed that Mr. Bradford would turn the NEH into a patronage dispenser for white racists and right-wing propagandists. And they even were able to quote one of Mr. Bradford’s indiscretions, for he had the temerity to suggest that conservative scholars had been slighted and would get their due under his administration. Imagine that! Flourishes aside, on what evidence were those suggestions based? Who was advancing them? Not clear.

Now, turn Mr. Bradford into a nuclear-freeze, environmentalist liberal and play it back for sound: vague charges, innuendoes, no names attached, and the wonderful notion that Mr. Bradford should be disqualified not for poor scholarship but for drawing unpopular conclusions from good and honest scholarship. If this scenario does not reduce to “McCarthyism,” what does? Can anyone believe that a liberal version of the Bradford Case would not have called forth an outcry from the Academic Establishment?

No, the Bradford Case is not funny. The silence of Academia has been shameful. Liberals and leftists, like the Galatians addressed so hauntingly by St. Paul, dare not deceive themselves. God is not mocked. Their turn will come.

Eugene D. Genovese

Ithaca, New York

To the Editors:

In his two-paragraph account of my speech to the Committee for the Free World, Alfred Kazin reports that I “solemnly advocated” the Ten Commandments, “denounced…’elite groups favorable to adultery,”’ traced anti-war attitudes to “‘the hedonism rampant in our society,”’ and delivered a “special warning” against abortion. On reading this account, I was surprised to find myself so very virtuous and nervously consulted the transcript.

There I discovered, first, that Professor Kazin’s quotations from my speech are not quotations at all, but his interpretations of what I said, subtly sharpened and placed within inverted commas. “Hedonism rampant,” for instance, is not my phrase, but his own. I gladly return it to him, confident that he will find a use for it.

It took some time but I eventually tracked down my solemn advocacy of the Ten Commandments. This turned out to be Professor Kazin’s stern interpretation of a modest joke. I had observed that the Ten Commandments “rather frowned upon adultery,” but told the audience to “be of good cheer” since, according to an opinion poll, 10 percent of American theologians took a more favorable view. Alas, Professor Kazin was not amused.

I went on to quote the Rothman-Lichter survey of the media elite (in which 56 percent of the senior journalists questioned disagreed, some strongly, with the statement “adultery is wrong”) and suggested that such polls reveal “an attitude to adultery which verges on the favorable.” It is this remark which was the basis of Professor Kazin’s accusation that I “denounced…’elite groups favorable to adultery.”’ Has he then been caught out in an accuracy? I am afraid not. For the very next sentence of my speech ran: “Now I don’t believe that they actually do favor adultery.” My explanation was that such responses represented a reluctance “to endorse a morality that makes demands upon people.” I described this attitude as “hedonism” and thus mortally alamed Professor Kazin.

Finally, far from delivering a “special warning” against abortion, I made no mention of abortion whatsoever.

There are other quarrels I might pick with Professor Kazin’s account. But I suspect that your readers may not have a limitless appetite for my moral opinions. On the above points, however, I think I can say to Professor Kazin: GOTCHA.

John O’Sullivan

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Alfred Kazin replies:

To Mr. Lipman: The New Criterion moved to its present address on Seventh Avenue during the week of March 14-18, well after the Plaza conference. Up to then the magazine had its office at 460 Park Avenue, in the same building as the New York office of the Olin Corporation. (Its mailing address was a PO box.) I did not know when I wrote my piece that the magazine’s office was on a different floor. Mea culpa!

As for the involvement of The New Criterion with the Olin Corporation, all I said was that the magazine represented one of the more “modest investments of Olin money.” The Foundation Center Source Profile notes that “The John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.” was established in Delaware in 1953 by “John M. Olin, the sole donor, who served as chairman of the board of the foundation and of its executive committee until his death in September, 1982.” The funds of the John M. Olin Foundation were derived from Mr. Olin’s activities as founder and chief executive officer of the Olin Corporation and the various corporations that were merged to make the Olin Corporation. Mr. Olin’s Who’s Who entry for 1976 shows his business career was entirely with the Olin Corporation and its predecessors. It therefore seems disingenuous of Mr. Lipman to say that the Olin Foundation’s money came from “various business activities then used (much in the manner of the Ford and Rockefeller fortunes) for philanthropic purposes.”

The Ford Foundation is not housed in the same building as the Ford Motor Company. The Rockefeller Foundation is not anywhere near what used to be the Standard Oil Company. As for my being “suggestive”: not being a Marxist, I do not believe that Mr. Kramer’s or Mr. Lipman’s “conservatism” owes anything to the Olin Corporation. They are ideologists and stalwart defenders of “democratic capitalism” all on their own. There are many corporation officers in America more flexible and liberal than this art critic and this pianist.

To Mr. Genovese: My account of the “Bradford case” was of course drawn from newspaper accounts and from people in Washington who assured me that Irving Kristol was responsible for “doing Bradford in.” Unlike Mr. Genovese, I do indeed care whether or not Mr. Kristol was responsible, and if Mr. Kristol says he was not, I apologize.

After reading Mr. Genovese’s complaint that I had done Mr. Bradford an injustice, I read Mr. Bradford’s Why the South Will Survive, Generations of the Faithful Heart, and read with particular attention the pages on Lincoln in A Better Guide Than Reason. Did I (without mentioning him by name and on secondhand evidence) call Mr. Bradford “a Confederate zealot”? I understated the case. Mr. Bradford, among his other charms, describes the Gettysburg Address as “an association of Lincoln and Oriental despotism.” One knows where Mr. Bradford stands. This is more than I can now say for Eugene Genovese.

To Mr. O’Sullivan: No one would guess from Mr. O’Sullivan’s jauntily amused letter what a stern moralist (especially when he defended that lofty tribune The New York Post) he presented at the Plaza. Mr. O’Sullivan speaks in a clear, ringingly Britannic accent, and I had no trouble nothing his many scornful remarks. He did indeed refer to “elite groups favorable to adultery,” and I was amused to see several gentlemen in clerical collars nodding approval at this. And I see in my notes, with appropriate “inverted commas” around it, Mr. O’Sullivan’s pronouncement that “antiwar attitudes now current spring from the hedonism rampant in our society.”

Mr. Irving Panken, “Chairman, New York Social Democrats USA,” has sent in a long, tendentious letter protesting my “outrageously false characterization” of Social Democrats USA as part of an “astonishingly wide conservative network in America.” Mr. Panken explains that “SDUSA” is closely identified with the positions of the AFL-CIO, supports most of its policies, both foreign and domestic, and that Social Democrats USA are not conservative on such social issues as abortion, homosexuality, prayer in the public schools, tuition tax credits, aid to private and parochial schools. He complains that while the Catholic Church is against abortion, homosexuality, etc., etc., I have not included Catholics in the “conservative network.” He then properly asks, “Can it be that Kazin either consciously or unconsciously omits the Catholic Church from his list because of the pacifist positions of the American Catholic Bishops on nuclear freeze and nuclear deterrence, as well as its opposition to the government of El Salvador?”

Mr. Panken’s picture is too much in black and white. But his assumption about me is correct. For me the burning social issue of our time is the threat of nuclear war. I am wholly with the Catholic bishops on this issue, wish that they hadn’t weakened their original statement in response to White House pressure. I oppose with all my heart and soul those “Social Democrats” who serve Reagan, Kirkpatrick, Weinberger, and who would, in my view, lead us into a war that will destroy not only communism but the human race.

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