Mr. Hook Replies
To the Editor:
“Fantastic” is the word for Mr. Taylor’s reading of my article and rejoinder in the October and December issues of COMMENTARY. He writes as if I had proposed a purge of fellow-travelers. The truth is that I was arguing against a purge. He taxes me with wishing to disqualify fellow-travelers from academic work. The truth is that I called for criticism of their behavior and pronouncements within the academic community. He asserts that my criticism flows merely from the fact that fellow-travelers differ with me on social and political questions. The truth is that I defended their right to disagree with anyone and everyone and criticized not their right to disagree but the double standard they followed in their agreements and disagreements. The main point with respect to Mrs. Lynd is whether it is admissible to rely on private evidence in making public charges against non-Communists if it is inadmissible to do so in making charges against Communists.
Not a single view Mr. Taylor attributes to me comes within hailing distance of my clearly expressed meaning. What, for example, could be more explicit than my statement: “On any view of academic freedom these men and women [the fellow-travelers] have every right to be members of the academic community”? On this and on other matters referred to by Mr. Taylor I trust COMMENTARY readers will take the trouble of referring to the actual text of my writings.
In “the interests of academic freedom,” Mr. Taylor is happy that not I but Mr. Conant is president of Harvard. One would imagine that I had proposed that Mr. Shapley be dismissed or administratively disciplined. Mr. Taylor should know that this is false. He also should know that Mr. Conant’s position on the question of members of the Communist party teaching in our schools, as evidenced by his signature to the Resolution of the Educational Policies Commission of the National Education Association, is, if anything, more stem than mine. Whatever its wisdom, I do not contest Mr. Shapley’s right to take any position in any company; I insist, however, upon my right to criticize his publicly expressed views.
Mr. Taylor has committed a logical blunder in confusing the proposition that the largest and most influential group of fellow-travelers are members of the academic community with the proposition that the largest and most influential group of members of the academic community are fellow-travelers. His citation of the total number of persons in the profession has absolutely no bearing on the truth of the first proposition, which is the one I asserted. The ratio of fellow-traveling teachers to fellow-travelers is derived by putting in the denominator the number of fellow-travelers, not the total number of teachers.
The rules of logic are no different for progressive educators than for conventional ones. Yet Mr. Taylor can bring himself to write “the implication [sic] in Mr. Hook’s argument is that there should be no room for disagreement in interpreting the data of contemporary politics.” Note that he carefully avoids stating what the argument is from which this alleged “implication” follows. Had he put my argument down in black and white, the absurdity of attributing this “implication” to me would have been too obvious for him to risk palming it off. It is such a silly non sequitur from anything I have ever written, that it betokens not so much a wildly mistaken inference as a move in the strategy of disingenuous polemic.
My position with respect to criticism of fellow-travelers of Communist-front organizations is no different from my position towards the fellow-travelers of fascism, racism, or clerical authoritarianism, irrespective of their number. And despite another of Mr. Taylor’s inventions, it does not imply “that only by anti-Communist polemic can we keep political thought and action moving in a liberal direction,” nor, I should add, only by anti-fascist polemic.
Against all the fellow-travelers of totalitarianism I made, and here repeat, the charge of lack of academic integrity which I defined as follows:
“What crucially defines the treason to academic integrity . . . is their defense of, or silent acquiescence in, the use of police methods against their colleagues abroad—and what police methods!—to suppress ideas in any field not countenanced by party dogma, and their direct and indirect support in this country of a movement which wherever it comes to power aims to destroy every vestige of academic freedom. These ‘defenders’ of academic freedom are its gravediggers” (COMMENTARY, October 1949, italics in the original).
Principled opponents of all varieties of totalitarianism need no reminders from Mr. Taylor that there is a continuing need to extend and deepen the processes of democracy in American life. They have been acting on this truth for many years, and long before Mr. Taylor appeared on the scene. I find it extremely odd, however, that Mr. Taylor never issues these reminders when we criticize Franco or Peron or the fellow-travelers of clerical reaction at home and abroad.
New York City