Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917–2007) was an American historian and social critic. He served as adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His Journals: 1952– 2000 were published in 2007.

The Turning Point

Following are excerpts from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s Journals of 1966 and 1967. January 21 [1966] I have been meaning for some time to put down the substance of the evening of January 6 when I assembled Carl Kaysen, Dick Goodwin, and Ken Galbraith for a dinner at 3132 O …

History and National Stupidity

History is not self-executing. You do not put a coin in the slot and have history come out. For the past is a chaos of events and personalities into which we cannot penetrate. It is beyond retrieval and it is beyond reconstruction. All historians know this in their souls. “There …

The Making of a Mess

Who got us into this mess anyway—our headlong plunge into preventive war against Iraq? The formal, and facile, answer is George W. Bush. But our president campaigned four years ago on a promise of humility in foreign policy and a rejection of nation-building as social work. Who persuaded him to …

Eyeless in Iraq

President George W. Bush has made a fatal change in the foreign policy of the United States. He has repudiated the strategy that won the cold war—the combination of containment and deterrence carried out through such multilateral agencies as the UN, NATO, and the Organization of American States. The Bush …

The Democratic Autocrat

Historians have recently fallen into the bad habit, initiated by my father in 1948, of rating American presidents in categories from “great” to “failure.” John F. Kennedy, commenting on the Schlesinger polls, observed that war made it easier for a president to achieve greatness. Almost all the presidents voted into …

On Henry Adams’s ‘Democracy’

The novelist insisted on total ano-nymity, instructed his publisher to bring the book out on April Fools’ Day 1880, and took care to be in Europe on publication day. Democracy: An American Novel[^1] created a sensation and was a best seller in the United States and England. The author was …

Anguish of a New York Liberal

William Dean Howells’s A Hazard of New Fortunes, published in 1890, is the first memorable novel about New York City.[^*] Earlier novelists had touched on aspects of the city; Melville in particular had searing insights in Pierre and in short stories like “Bartleby the Scrivener.” And there was, of course, …

On JFK: An Interview with Isaiah Berlin

This is an interview given by Isaiah Berlin on April 12, 1965, in Washington, D.C., to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston. It has been edited and shortened with the help of Henry Hardy, Berlin’s editor and one of his literary trustees. A recording and …

The Radical

George Kennan is an odd case in the United States at the end of the twentieth century. The republic these days has little to offer in the form of sages—persons of wisdom and experience to whom the young may look for counsel and guidance. A diplomat who began his professional …

Four Days with Fidel: A Havana Diary

Tuesday, January 7. We are flying to Miami en route to Havana for a conference, with Fidel Castro, on the Cuban missile crisis. This is the fifth conference in a series that began in 1987, in Hawk’s Cay, Florida, as an all-American affair, in which Kennedy administration veterans were asked …

Aggressive Progressive

In most countries the minister of the interior is the official in charge of the state police and internal security, a frightening figure. The American secretary of the interior, by contrast, is a presumably benign fellow, guardian, or at least custodian, of the nation’s natural resources—public lands, national parks, mines, …

The Ages of Jackson

My involvement with the age of Jackson began more than half a century ago. Seeking a subject for an honors essay as an undergraduate at Harvard College in the autumn of 1937, I chose the formidable nineteenth-century American intellectual Orestes A. Brownson. Brownson was a man of many careers—preacher, editor, …

Getting FDR’s Ear

Who whom? as Lenin used to say: Who dominates whom? In some moods Americans like to see their president as a demigod bestriding all about him; in other moods, they find a certain relish in seeing him as a puppet controlled by a cabal of secret advisers. This second idea …

‘Prich’: A New Deal Memoir

In the summer of 1941 I went south from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to do research at the Library of Congress. Every morning I disappeared into the darkness of the manuscript division and immersed myself in the Washington of Andrew Jackson. At five o’clock, when the library closed, I would come out …

The Election and After

Following are excerpts from a discussion on the future of American politics held in New York in June between Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Walter Dean Burnham, Kevin Phillips, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The discussion was sponsored by the Institute for National Strategy, of which Governor Brown and Walter Dean Burnham …

I’m the Greatest!

A curmudgeon in the old dictionaries is “an avaricious, grasping fellow” but in American political usage, as recorded in William Safire’s Political Dictionary, is “a likeably irascible old man…with a talent for invective.” The licensed scold has had a long life in American politics. The curmudgeon’s distinguishing mark is the …

Desperate Times

In this age of promiscuous interventionism, the word “isolationism” has lost much of the odium it used to have forty years ago. Global crusades have latterly proven a source of infinite mischief, and to many Americans it no longer seems such a bad idea to limit the world aspirations of …

Washington at War

Very little mattered more to the British government during the Second World War than the American relationship. On that relationship hung survival, the outcome of the war, and, to a considerable degree, the future of peace. Whitehall worried more furiously about American opinion in these years than at any point …

Master Illusionist

Does anyone under fifty now remember Bernard Baruch? Yet he was a national icon in his time. “Ever since World War I,” as John Kenneth Galbraith writes in his recent memoirs, Baruch had been “the accredited, more precisely the self-accredited, sage. It is not easy now to convey an impression …