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Comment: Scoundrel Time Mobilizing the American Intelligentsia for the Cold War Richard A. Falk The anti-Communist wing of the New York intellectual establishment has apparently been offended by the unexpectedly intense critical acclaim and popular success of Lillian Heilman's Scoundrel Time. If given to conspiracy thinking, I would suppose a plot to denounce Scoundrel Time launched at one of those frequent fashionable parties normally given in one of those spacious apartments on Manhattan's West Side. It is at least worth noticing the coincidence of strikingly similar denunciations of Scoundrel Time by Nathan Glazer, Hilton Kramer, William Phillips and Irving Howe all published at approximately the same time, and each an essay of acerbic political commentary rather than a review. In addition, we have on a recent front page of the New York Times the spectacle of Diana Trilling withdrawing her book from Little Brown, also the publisher of Scoundrel Time, because an editor (probably misguidedly) insisted that some passages critical of Ms. Hellman be removed from her manuscript. Why this belated outburst? What does it tell us about the book, the issue? At stake, above all else, I believe, has been the realization that the success of Scoundrel Time would, if not challenged, endow its views of the McCarthy period in the early 1950s with an authoritative status. Particularly galling, of course, was the impression Ms. Hellman unmistakably creates that the anti-Communist intelligentsia was complicit , allowing its ideological passion to take precedence over its defense of democratic rights here at home. Let me be clear. Lillian 97 Hellman regards the Congressional witch-hunters and their explicit allies as "the scoundrels"; in her view "the Trilling set" (that roughly encompasses those who now take issue with Ms. Hellman), by its ambivalence to red-baiting official style, helped make it "a scoundrel time" and bear some measure of responsibility for the worse things done later in the name of anti-Communism. Had the intelligentsia stood firm in the 1950s, in other words, the cold war mentality might not have gripped the country and we might now be struggling to loosen the bonds speciously wrapped around our citizenry in the name of "national security." The main argument of cold war intellectuals against Ms. Hellman centers on the character of "the Communist threat" at the time and what should have been done about it. Ms. Hellman's indictment is largely directed elsewhere, at the careerism and weakness of those who "caved in" and told the government everything they knew, and sometimes more, about themselves and their friends. Such an official "smear" campaign had its personal, as well as its political effects, and the issue of principle can be drawn in various ways. For those who stand, as I do, with Ms. Hellman the balance of indecency was clearly on the side of McCarthyism, with its disgusting effort to discredit dedicated , serious citizens and its mindless campaign to whip up fear and hatred. Part of this determination had to do with the extremist motivations of the investigators, but part also had to do with the absence of a genuine "internal security threat." The country was not endangered nearly so much by those with left affiliations and leanings, as it was by those who would help launch this country on an overseas antiCommunist crusade culminating in the Vietnam defeat abroad and the Watergate collapse at home. It was these cold war warriors who legitimized huge peacetime defense budgets, formed the cadres of "the best and the brightest," were ready to fight Communists on any battlefield on behalf of any ally, that by and large reject Ms. Hellman's reconstruction of the McCarthy years as "imbalanced" and "distorted." It is not that the Commentary/Partisan Review world, which is explicitly attacked in Scoundrel Time and is fighting back, endorsed McCarthyism as such. On the contrary, as Glazer and Phillips correctly emphasize, the magazines in question, especially PR, deplored the redbaiting approach of Congress to internal security. But what was also true was that these anti-Communist outlooks regarded the Soviet Union as "the main enemy" and reserved their principal hostility for those Americans who resisted this judgment. It was this kind of self...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 97-102
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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