There are three things to say about the work of Arthur Schlesinger, who has just died at the age of eighty-nine: (1) He was an exceptionally good writer, commanding a lucid, vivid, and often elegant prose style. (2) He was an exceptionally bad historian: incapable of doing justice to any idea with which he disagreed, and so tendentious that he invariably denigrated and/or vilified anyone who had ever espoused any such idea. Like the so-called “Whig interpretation of history” in England, Schlesinger’s voluminous work as a historian amounts to the proposition that the story of freedom in America is the story of the Democratic party, and specifically of its never-ending struggle against the sinister bastions of privilege, oppression, and ignorance represented by the Republicans of the modern era and their forebears. (3) This unshakable conviction not only made his wonderfully readable accounts of the past unreliable and in many cases even worthless; it also warped his political judgment in the present, leading him in the last forty years of his life to support the forces that were pushing the Democratic party to the Left. In becoming an apologist for these forces, he betrayed the liberalism that he himself, in The Vital Center, had earlier espoused and whose banishment from the Democratic party has been, and will continue to be, a calamity for this country.
Posts For: March 1, 2007
Conservatives love to hate the International Criminal Court. Elaborate scenarios have been conjured up about how it could be politicized and turned into an instrument of anti-American animus. Fears have been raised that Henry Kissinger or Donald Rumsfeld could soon find himself in the dock. John Bolton spent an inordinate amount of time and energy when he was Undersecretary of State trying to coerce American allies into signing treaties pledging they would never send Americans for prosecution to the Hague.
So far such alarmism has proven groundless. The ICC seems to be doing exactly what it ought to be doing—trying to hold real war criminals accountable for their actions in places where the local legal system does not function effectively. On Tuesday, the chief ICC prosecutor presented evidence against two suspects in the Darfur genocide—a janjaweed militia leader, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman (a.k.a. Ali Kushayb), and a Sudanese government official, Ahmad Harun, who allegedly helped him carry out atrocities. (In a grim irony, Harun is now Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs.)
Suddenly, the Bush administration is prepared to sit around a table with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq. “Better late than never,” crowed Leon Panetta, one of the Democrats who served on the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. So, were Baker and Hamilton right when they proposed talks with Syria and Iran as a way out of our Iraq imbroglio?
The answer is no. The question is not whether to talk to Iran or Syria, but in what context. What else are we doing while talking? The ISG proposed to couple such talks with beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. This would make us the petitioner, looking to Tehran and Damascus to cover our back while we flee.
Michael J. Lewis makes a fair point about Wikipedia: we have all used it as a short-cut from time to time, and, provided that information from it is checked and cross-referenced, it has its legitimate uses. But he does not go far enough in commenting on its accuracy.
The site is the repository not merely of inaccuracy but of disinformation on a vast scale. It is a minefield for those whom Nietzsche called “die Halbgebildeten,” the half-educated. According to Tom Gross, Wikipedia recently deleted an entry that claimed “the bones of Palestinian children” were one of five ingredients used by Jews to make unleavened bread for Passover. Though the editors promised to be more vigilant in the future, it is troubling that an Islamist version of this ancient anti-Semitic blood libel could be posted on this most popular of online resources for any length of time at all.