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Dwight Macdonald

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To the Editor:

In her article on Michael Wreszin’s biography of Dwight Macdonald [“The Politics of Dissent,” July], Gertrude Himmelfarb writes: “Mary McCarthy’s ‘Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man,’ written in 1942, gives us a barely fictionalized young Macdonald who presages the Macdonald of later years.” As a marginal and very junior member of the intellectual circles around Macdonald’s Politics and Partisan Review in the late 1940′s, I recall that it was common knowledge that McCarthy’s model was John Chamberlain. Miss Himmelfarb was also a member of these circles, so her error is surprising. She knew Macdonald personally much better than I ever did, so it is also surprising that she ignores the clear lack of resemblance between most of the traits McCarthy ascribes to her character, including physical appearance, and Macdonald. It is all the more surprising in that she clearly reread the McCarthy story from which she quotes directly. If it is any consolation to her, Christopher Hitchens made the same mistake in the London Review of Books of June 23, placing the false equation between Macdonald and the McCarthy character at the very beginning of his review.

John Chamberlain started out as a left-wing journalist, became a writer for the Luce publications, wrote a book called A Farewell to Reform, and eventually edited the Freeman, a solidly right-wing journal that was the precursor of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review. Dwight Macdonald’s career followed exactly the opposite course: he began as a writer for Luce, went on to contribute to obscure radical periodicals, and ultimately founded his own in Politics. Perhaps Miss Himmelfarb’s error is owing to the fact that today she sees Chamberlain’s career and that of McCarthy’s character—at odds here with McCarthy herself—as a sober and responsible one in contrast to the vain utopian leftism for which she censures Macdonald.

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