Public & Private Morality
To the Editor:
One reason thinkers hesitate to admit publicly to their changes of mind is that they know their opponents will take unfair advantage. Edmund Stillman’s egregious assault on the person and work of Hans Morgenthau is a case in point [“Telling ‘Truth’ to Power,” April].
To publish one’s essays and occasional pieces written over a decade as tumultuous as the 1960′s is an act of courage. Mr. Stillman displays an unseemly delight in holding up to ridicule what he claims to be Professor Morgenthau’s predictive errors of the early 60′s. Does Mr. Stillman really believe that Professor Morgenthau is unaware of the changes in his own thinking? It would seem strange indeed if the horror of the U.S. war in Indochina had not made a major impact on a man’s thought about American power in the world. Perhaps Mr. Stillman is the exception of undeviating consistency.
The author’s personal animosity toward Professor Morgenthau (he is “shrill,” indulges in “affectations of high seriousness,” is “illtempered,” a “congenital naysayer,” “self-important,” “pretentious,” guilty of “self adulation,” etc.) may be rooted in experiences not revealed in this article and about which we can form no judgment, but personal animus is a poor substitute for coming to terms with Professor Morgenthau’s arguments, a task which Mr. Stillman steadfastly avoids.
Most inaccurate and cruel is the charge that Professor Morgenthau has all along been “running with the pack.” (It is not clear how one can be “eccentric” and a “congenital nay-sayer” and still be guilty of pandering to the demands of the intellectual and political marketplace.) In truth, Hans Morgenthau was speaking and writing against our Indochina venture long before such views were popular or even respectable. In 1965 he joined us in Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam and his identification with what was then viewed as a marginal and suspect peace movement exacted a high price in his standing both with official Washington and with academia.
Privately and publicly Hans Morgenthau has given moving expression to the anguish with which he has had to rethink the role of morality in international relations and in domestic politics. If Mr. Stillman did not detect that anguish in Professor Morgenthau’s book, perhaps the fault lies not entirely with Professor Morgenthau. Mr. Stillman’s resentment suggests almost a sense of betrayal in the face of Hans Morgenthau’s stubborn insistence upon continuing to change. For our part, we will continue to argue with Professor Morgenthau, confident that his thought will enrich us in the future as it has in the past.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Jewish Theological Seminary
New York City
Richard J. Neuhaus
Church of St. John the Evangelist
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
Edmund Stillman in accusing Hans Morgenthau of “rancor” and “ungenerous contempt for intellectual difference” must have wondered, at least momentarily, whether those phrases did not fit his attack. If he wants to show that Morgenthau is not infallible, nobody (including Morgenthau) will argue. If he wants to challenge Morgenthau’s judgments, many of us will gain from a valid debate. But neither of these aims can account for the shrill attack on Morgenthau’s character.
Surely Morgenthau ranks among the three or four most influential academic critics of the wisdom and ethics of the American misadventure in Vietnam. Famous though he is for his “realism,” he has eloquently called on his adopted country to be true to the high moral qualities that its leaders have often voiced. We might expect a judicious critic to show some appreciation for these services to the body politic.
One detail, in particular, is especially unfair. By writing that Truth and Power is a selection of “presumably the best” essays of a decade, then adding that “much that is embarrassing has been left out,” Mr. Stillman gives the impression that Morgenthau has hidden the judgments that he would like to forget. But Truth and Power includes all the major essays of the period except—as Morgenthau clearly states on page ix—those already published in Vietnam and the United States, which included the specific essay that Stillman ridicules Morgenthau for omitting. Far from suppressing judgments he has changed, Morgenthau has spread out the record so that any reader can appraise it.
To students interested in the ethics of American foreign policy I have frequently recommended two books: Power and Impotence by Edmund Stillman and William Pfaff and A New Foreign Policy for the United States by Hans Morgenthau. Both books share many qualities of moral sensitivity, much needed in these desperate days. Hence it is especially disappointing to see the co-author of one engage in an intemperate attack on the author of the other.
Roger L. Shinn
Union Theological Seminary
New York City
To the Editor:
As the editor of Hans Morgenthau’s Truth and Power: Essays of a Decade, 1960-70, I am admittedly biased, so I won’t attempt to answer Edmund Stillman’s curiously biased evaluation of a book I found to be penetrating, wise, and moving. But Mr. Stillman’s subtle attack on Professor Morgenthau’s intellectual integrity cannot go unchallenged. (“One certainly cannot judge Professor Morgenthau’s record as a prophet on the basis of this book alone,” writes Stillman. “Much that is embarrassing has been left out.”) In preparing this manuscript, I read through most of Morgenthau’s published articles of the period and then he and I made the final selections. The question of “faulty prophecy” was never raised by either of us as a criterion. We were concerned with eliminating repetition and developing a cohesive book that reflected the range of significant issues of the decade and was pertinent today. The Vietnam article referred to by Mr. Stillman was not included simply because it had already been reprinted in another Morgenthau collection; perhaps Stillman neglected to read the Preface, where this information appeared: “I have, as far as possible, tried to eliminate duplication and have in a few instances combined articles dealing with the same subject matter. Early articles on Vietnam, starting with ‘Vietnam—Another Korea?’ in May 1962, and ending with ‘Vietnam: Shadow and Substance of Power’ in September 1965, were separately published in Vietnam and the United States and have not been reprinted here.”
New York City
Edmund Stillman writes:
To read these letters one would think that my article on Hans Morgenthau’s Truth and Power was nothing but a series of gratuitous personal attacks, unrelated to the gravest issues of public policy and morality, and that my charges against him were not buttressed by extensive quotations from his essays of the past decade. The reverse is true. I do not know Professor Morgenthau. (We met briefly on a television program at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia; but that is all.) It is the correspondents who make a personal defense, on the grounds, it would seem, that Professor Morgenthau is in private life a humane man and one who has confessed the agony of changing his mind. They do not confront the actual charges raised: Did Professor Morgenthau, or did he not, counsel us to assassinate Diem in 1963? Did he, or did he not, counsel a forward policy against Castro and the Soviets in the Caribbean in 1962? Did he, or did he not, mock U Thant for suggesting a decade after Stalin’s death that the Soviets had abandoned their hopes of communization of the world through force? Did he, or did he not, dismiss Senator Fulbright’s call for a rethinking of U.S. foreign policy with the warning that the so-called new “peacefulness” of the Soviet Union really stemmed from “our unwillingness to face up to Soviet challenges [which] made a direct military confrontation unnecessary”?
And having given such advice all along—advice either consonant with official U.S. foreign policy, or even more bellicose—does he, or does he not, now counsel us at home to take the revolutionary road? Professor Morgenthau is asking for violence in a land already distracted and beset by violence.
These are the issues. They are not conjured away by the suggestion that I have committed an act of lèse majesté in calling the record in/?/o question. Nor do I seek to apply to Professor Morgenthau a standard I would not wish applied to myself. It is not enough to claim intellectual courage by making public display of changing one’s mind. Anyone who writes books and articles on policy issues must reckon with the possibility that his advice will have influence. The public has every right, though it is exercised too seldom, to ask how good in the past that advice has been. In Professor Morgenthau’s case that advice differed only in nuance at best, and at worst in greater bellicosity, from official policy.
But there is finally the issue of morality. Professor Morgenthau’s moral failure seems to stem from a failure to visualize the concrete consequences of words . It is so tempting, when one is a good talker, to run on and on into abstraction. But to talk grandly of the “Western tradition of political philosophy [which] justifies revolution against a tyrannical government, and even tyrannicide” comes down in the end to a sick and frightened old man, Diem, alone in a little room with his assassins. To tell us that the present problems of America cannot be solved rationally within the present political structure, to suggest revolution, is to come in the end to gutters of blood.
How easy for all of us if the present dilemmas of America had all been made by the easily identified “bad” people—the military-industrial complex and the CIA and the FBI and the money men and the hard-hats and Mayor Daley. I am afraid your correspondents, and all of us, will have to look deeper than that.