Tribute to Michael Harrington

Tribute to Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington had two qualities of the greatly good—patience, and an almost total freedom from vanity. A political worker by calling, he was also, irrepressibly, a quick-witted man, who could startle himself (in the middle of some careful analysis of historical trends) with a sly joke or a glancing allusion. He must often have been bored, or tired; yet one cannot imagine him looking bored, and the tiredness rarely showed in public. To have confessed to feelings of discouragement must have seemed to him a sin against hope. Was there ever anyone who wasted less time? “A sense of humor saves a few steps, it saves years”, and Michael had a sense of humor—with a long or short fuse, as needed. Once, after a lecture, I heard him argue with an ultra-pure nut—another Irishman, a Jesuit- turned-communist and an engaging fellow, but half crazed with conspiracies. “Where are your people? Where are the troops? That’s what I want to know,” said Harrington. Sanity fought that battle to a friendly draw. But he never gave up on an enemy, or even a temporarily forlorn ally. Talking to a group of friends in the early seventies, he spoke undogmat- ically of “my disagreement with Pat Moynihan and others who think they can have the best effect by working in a Republican administration.” Nobody else in the group would have put it so kindly. But then, nobody else predicted that Moynihan would come back as a liberal, and a steady one at that.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima