Moreover, anyone should have known that Nathan Glazer is in fact one of our country’s most eminent political sociologists, a founding editor with Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell decades ago of The Public Interest, and a man of liberal sensibility who used to write frequently for the anti-Communist magazine The New Leader as well as Commentary. At the time, he was among the first generation dubbed neo-conservatives, which he defined as referring “to the growing caution and skepticism among a group of liberals about the effects of social programs” initiated during the Great Society years. About his anti-Communism, there was no doubt.
As for Kipnis, he was a traditional scholar of American socialism who wrote what became one of the very first studies — soon to be outdated — of the impact of American socialism. As later scholars showed, for long periods of time socialism was a rather mainstream movement in the prairies and farm areas in America’s heartland, and its following increased as many joined its ranks because of their opposition to World War I. There are many theories as to why the movement quickly dissipated and fell apart, but any historian of America’s past could not ignore its existence and influence.
For those reasons, the books chosen were indeed more than appropriate for a national library in the home of our chief executive. But what is the real issue is their very presence evidently sets off alarm bells among many contemporary conservatives, whose outlook — to put it mildly — is anti-intellectual. Indeed, their immediate negative response reminds one of the shame put on our nation when at the taxpayers’ expense in the 1950s, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine took a tour of American governmental libraries abroad, and compiled lists of “subversive” books they found on the shelves which they urged be removed. The image of Joe McCarthy’s top aide and his friend cavorting through Europe led to charges of “bookburning,” and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower later made a public statement condemning the antics of the duo and the harm they brought to our nation’s image as a bastion of freedom.
Port and those who supported his original finding now have egg on their face, and for good reason. Shouldn’t advocates of freedom not be afraid of ideas in books, even those with which they disagree? This is even more true when in this case, those commenting were completely unaware of the contents of these volumes. What does it say about the attitude of so many on the political right that finding such books in the White House sets them off on a crusade that fortunately was aborted before it could be carried on any longer?
It is time, I suggest, for conservatives to make criticism of policy when they find it lacking in substance or just plain wrong, and stop this rather silly game of gotcha based on a fallacious reading of history.