The Cold War: What Needs to Be Rethought?

The Cold War: What Needs to Be Rethought?

Jeffrey C. Isaac’s review of Frances Stoner Saunders’s The Cultural Cold War (“Rethinking the Cultural Cold War,” Summer 2002) argues, in effect, that the end justifies the means. The end was the cause of liberal anticommunism. The means was the covert collaboration by any number of eminent intellectuals in several countries with the Central Intelligence Agency, which funded and guided the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

The argument is dubious. Certainly, figures such as Raymon Aron, Daniel Bell, Isaiah Berlin, Sidney Hook, and Edward Shils did not need to have the CIA call their attention to the fact that Stalinist politics were repugnant. They used the funds placed at their disposition in ways that were hardly conspicuous for spiritual disinterestedness. They established networks of patronage from which intellectual adversaries were systematically excluded. Many of the other figures involved in the operation were egregious intriguers and strivers, mediocrities for whom the CIA’s money was a godsend. One understands why Irving Howe termed the whole thing a racket.

There is a further point. The CCF established canons of political respectability that narrowed western political discourse. The votaries of liberal anticommunism indulged in a western triumphalism that was utterly sterile. Their work ignored the inner contradictions in the Soviet bloc and reinforced a monolithic image of communism congenial to the cold war apparatus. Treating those who thought differently as willfully or stupidly blind, eccentrics, heretics, utopians, or traitors, they made a major contribution to sustaining policies that may well have prolonged the cold war by several decades. Isaac’s closing reference to the need for caution about criticism in contemporary politics, especially after September 11, 2001, could be read as a call for the rest of us to think only when standing at attention. Perhaps, rigorous liberal that he is, he will wish to reconsider.


Norman BirnbaumĀ is Professor Emeritus at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Paul Buhle teaches at Brown University and most recently is co-editor of Radical Hollywood; Insurgent Images; and an anthology, The New Left Revisited.

Jeffrey C. Isaac‘s most recent book isĀ Democracy in Hard Times.

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