Rarely, if ever, are the words “socialism” and “nobility” associated with one another. Early socialists, following in the tradition of the French revolution, sought to destroy the old regime and its inequality. In the twentieth century, neither of socialism’s main branches had much time for “nobility.” Social democrats became a part of mass society, emphasizing their “plebeian” mettle. Communists, while they erected concentration camps and fashioned ruinous economies, boasted that their new civilization had nothing to do with the “ridiculous ceremonies” of historically defunct classes and estates.
Irving Howe was an heir of America’s democratic socialist tradition. He was a principled democrat in political vision as much as in life-style. Three years ago we spent a week with him in Mexico City, on the occasion of a series of televised debates on the liberation of Eastern Europe, and witnessed, not without amusement, his utter shock at the lavishness of the hospitality bestowed on the participants....
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