When I was a teenage conservative activist in the late 1960s, I relished the verbal clashes between two intellectual icons: conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
They could give it as well as they could take it.
On one occasion, Buckley said of his nemesis, "I shall be glad to give publicity to any lapse by Professor Schlesinger into sanity, and do not worry that such a guarantee will heavily mortgage my future time."
As for Schlesinger, after claiming Buckley "printed a flat lie about me in his column in the [New York] Post," he added, "The last thing that Buckley wants is to have facts violate his prejudices."
Despite this sparring, Buckley and Schlesinger were cordial to one another. They debated in public forums back in the days when ideological opponents could engage in civil discourse without vulgar shout downs from the peanut galleries.
After Schlesinger's death at age 90 in 2007, Buckley wrote of his long-time foe: "He was a liberal partisan, but he did not turn a blind eye to transgressions by accommodationist liberals who permitted themselves to follow the Communist Party line. He was devastating in his expulsion of them from his movement, which he served more diligently than perhaps any other human being in modern history."
Buckley could write a gracious tribute because he knew his old foe was what New York Mayor Ed Koch called a "sane liberal Democrat."
In his 1945 Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Age of Jackson, Schlesinger enshrined the heritage of Democratic Party founder Andrew Jackson, the first populist who defended the common man.
Unlike present-day leftists who have banished Jackson from the Democratic Party, Schlesinger, knowing full well Jackson's faults, agreed with F.D.R.'s belief that the 7th president contributed immeasurably to "the vitality of our democracy."
For Schlesinger, in the Jacksonian era "the premium placed on tolerance, bargaining and compromise has, on the whole, kept alive enough hope for disconnected minorities to deter them from taking up the option of revolution."
Regrettably, "tolerance, bargaining, and compromise," are concepts no longer acceptable to radical leftists who have seized control of the Democratic Party in 2020.
Throughout his long public career, Schlesinger never fell for the promises of Marxism-Leninism. He was a founder in 1947 of Americans for Democratic Action, whose central objective "was to become a powerful vehicle for the non-Communist Left in its vehement opposition to Stalinism."
Interestingly, he rejected the notion of "official liberalism that had long been almost inextricably identified with a picture of man as perfectible, as endowed with sufficient wisdom and selflessness to endure power and to use it infallibly for the general good."
"The Soviet experience, on top of the rise of fascism," Schlesinger noted, "reminded my generation rather forcibly, that man was indeed, imperfect, and that the corruption of power could unleash great evil in the world."
In his 1949 book, The Vital Center, Schlesinger defined a free society as one "committed to the protection of liberties of conscience, expression and political opposition." And he called for the courts of justice to be "free from all the threats of mob violence and all associations with any particular political party."
In 1961, he left Harvard to become Special Assistant to President Kennedy. He went on to receive his second Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.
In the post-Kennedy era, Schlesinger did not fear taking on radicals on the left.
In March 1969, for instance, he eviscerated Noam Chomsky's American Power and the New Mandarins in the Chicago Times. "Somewhere in the book," Schlesinger wrote, "Chomsky writes with his usual sententiousness, 'It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.' He must be putting us on. ... One can only conclude that Chomsky's idea of the responsibility of an intellectual is to foreswear reasoned analysis, indulge in moralistic declamation, fabricate evidence when necessary and shout always at the top of one's voice."
Schlesinger had a similar take on New Left potentate, Herbert Marcuse. He said the Marxist professor's call for political violence and repressive tolerance was an "assault on rationality" in politics and "noxious rubbish."
As early as 1991, the old liberal lion rejected the "fragments, segregation and tribalization of American life" sought by far-left multiculturalists in his work The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society.
Identity politics, Schlesinger warned "have filled the air with recrimination and rancor and have remarkably advanced the fragmentation of American life." This "cult," he concluded, "threatens to become a counter-revolution against the original theory of America as 'one people' a common culture, a single nation."
Time has proven him right.
If the Democratic Party is to be saved from those committed to pursuing the "fragmentation of American life," the heirs of Arthur Schlesinger must rise and evict these dangerous ideologues before the party of Jackson, Cleveland, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy is no more.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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