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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 FromOld Left To New Right John P. Diggins. Up From Communism: Conservahve Odysseys in {merzcan Intellectual History. New York: Harper & Row, Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd., 1975. 522 + xvii pp. Douglas G. Webb One of the more intriguing phenomena in recent American intellectual history isthe startling transformation of men and women who had been ardent politicalradicals during the 193O'sinto conservative stalwarts after World WarII. While the large majority of those who embraced Marxism or other formsof radicalism in the depression years continued to think of themselves, .atleast in some vague sense, as men of the left, a significant, if rather small, minoritygrew so disenchanted with their earlier positions that they moved all theway to the political right. Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers, Max Eastman, Eliseo Vivas, John Chamberlain, William Henry Chamberlin, James Burnham, Willi Schlamm, Henry Hazlitt, Suzanne La Follette, JohnDos Passos, Ralph de Toledano, Eugene Lyons, Freda Utley and Will Herbergare only some of those who made the journey. In th~ir new guise, such peoplehad a strong and often decisive impact on the conservative intellectual movementwhich emerged in America after 1945, providing the right with a hard-nosed understanding of Soviet intentions and reinforcing already powerfulanti-Communist impulses. Their imprint on the National Review in particular, the journalistic center of the movement, has been deep and enduring. In Up From Communism, John P. Diggins attempts to analyze this phenomenon through a consideration of the careers of four of the more important "radicals-turned-conservatives": Max Eastman, editor of the legendaryMasses and one of Trotsky's earliest American disciples, who later 224 Douglas G. Webb became a roving editor for Reader's Digest and an impassioned apologist for laissez-faire capitalism; John Dos Passos, the author of such protest novels as Manhattan Transfer and the U.S.A. trilogy and radical defender of Sacco and Vanzetti, who turned into a supporter of Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater and an historian-celebrant of the early American republic; James Burnham, probably the leading intellectual of the official Trotskyist party in the 1930's, who broke with the movement in 1940, wrote such anti-socialist debunking works as The Managerial Revolution and The Machiavellians, and later became one of the most articulate spokesmen for the hardline conservative interpretation of the Cold War; and Will Herberg, a prominent member of the Young Communist League during the late I920's and a key figure in the expelled Lovestoneite Communist group in the l930's, who repudiated Marxism around 1940 and eventually became one of the most important American Jewish theologians and a contributing editor to the National Review. What made these four men radicals in the first place? Why did they break with the Marxian left? Why after their break did they move so far to the right? What common elements, if any, underlay their left-right odysseys? These are some of the major questions Diggins is interested in exploring. As Diggins notes too, his study arose, at least in part, out of a conviction that the moral and philosophical origins of the Cold War must be sought further in the past than most historians have thought- not in the diplomatic and political maneuvering of the years immediately after World War II but in the crushing disillusionments experienced by a whole generation of radicals during the l930's and early l940's. By focusing on the ideological pilgrimages of Eastman and company, he hopes to examine this question more fully and come to a clearer understanding of anti-Communism "as a general intellectual proposition and not merely as a politics of ambition." The careers of Eastman, Dos Passos, Burnham and Herberg also enable Diggins to analyze some of the most fundamental problems which have bedevilled American intellectuals over the past half-century: the validity· of Marxism as "science," the connection between Marxism and Stalinism (and between Leninism and Stalinism), the rise of the bureaucratic and managerial state, the relation between power and morality and means and ends, the issue of American exceptionalism, the reasons for the failure of socialism, the historic conditions of freedom, the question of religious truth versus scientific knowledge, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 223-240
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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