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Evolving Margaret Mead

In response to:

The Evolution of Margaret Mead from the December 6, 1984 issue

To the Editors:

My esteemed colleague, Stephen Toulmin, took the occasion of a recent review [NYR, December 6, 1984] of two books about Margaret Mead to condemn the parochialism of “a State Department whose policy-planning staff knows something about the ideas of Leo Strauss but does not understand Russian, let alone appreciate the cultural diversity of the peoples whose lives are affected by its plans.” I can only imagine that Professor Toulmin acquired this absurd misunderstanding of the Policy Planning Staff by extrapolating from my presence on that staff in 1981–1982. I am not especially concerned over what he personally thinks about me or my service there, but I am sorry to be in any way the occasion for public aspersions on the staff I was privileged to work with.

I would like to assure Professor Toulmin and his readers that I was practically the only member of that staff who did not have some regional or technical expertise. (Since the location of the speech-drafting function within Policy Planning, long before this Administration, it has been customary for there to be some members of that staff without such expertise, though they usually have not been academic political theorists.) During my service there, the staff included, among other regional scholars, three distinguished students of Soviet politics with Ph.D.’s from UCLA, Harvard and Chicago, two of whom had previously taught that subject at Yale and Columbia, and the third of whom has since been appointed to run the Stanford–Berkeley Program on Soviet International Behavior, as well as Foreign Service officers with experience in the Soviet Union. The Director at that time also understands Russian, as well as Arabic, Hebrew, French, and German and has since been studying Japanese. I hope this information is sufficient to correct the misunderstanding Professor Toulmin has so carelessly disseminated.

Nathan Tarcov

University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

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