Commentary Magazine


Taking Issue

To the Editor:

Not only has Norman Podhoretz become “mildly conservative” [“Laws, Kings, and Cures,” October 1970] but, like the conservatives, largely negative; and like William Buckley, who might as well be on COMMENTARY’s staff now, so snide—here I am thinking of the ladies Decter and Rabinowitz. Mr. Podhoretz seems to be obsessed with those to the Left of him, which comes to mean almost anyone not in the Establishment. I understand the fears of a right-wing reaction. Still . . . isn’t there a need for continuing analyses of the war, racism, and the institutionalized corruption of business, politics, the military, and the rest, not to speak of the ecological disaster we seem incapable of preventing? . . .

Isadore Traschen
Troy, New York

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To the Editor:

As I read “The Idea of Crisis” [Issues, November 1970], I was grateful for the clarity and force-fulness of Norman Podhoretz’s observations. It reminded me of the time Ed Murrow stood before the CBS TV camera to reveal the true nature of McCarthyism; this was at the height of the Wisconsin Senator’s diabolical influence and served as a turning point in that demagogue’s career. Mr. Podhoretz may well have done the same service for those of us who have felt crushed between the extremes of the Right and the Left in more recent years.

George Field
Executive Director Emeritus
Freedom House
New York City

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz may wish to call the period through which we are living whatever he likes. Even normal, if he enjoys it. A “crisis” exists whenever a system is off-balance. Whether we have indeed, slipped into a period where the stabilizers of American society have broken down and the whole society . . . is out of control is a judgment we all have to make. But to stick a label on those of us who think that things have somehow gone wrong and call us “enemies of democracy” is intellectually unworthy of someone who has the opportunity to address his fellow intellectuals every month. To climb up the flagpole and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” isn’t even good rhetoric. It’s simply a sign that Podhoretz has stopped thinking.

John Friedmann
Los Angeles, California

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s column objecting to anyone who might “harp on the idea of crisis” reminds me of the well-known ostrich.

Sydney L. Berger
Evansville, Indiana

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Norman Podhoretz writes:

What I was suggesting in “The Idea of Crisis” was that a political purpose is itself being served by the notion—or, if Mr. Friedmann prefers, the judgment—that American society has “broken down” or is “out of control.” George F. Kennan recently made much the same point as I was trying to make but in terms perhaps more lucid when he said that the “exaggeration of admittedly existing evils has regularly formed the initial ideological basis for fanatical political movements, including the totalitarian ones.” Now it should be obvious to anyone who has not “stopped thinking” that the alternatives to exaggerating (or “harping on”) a social evil are neither to act the ostrich by denying the existence of real social and political problems (as Mr. Berger imagines) nor to act the mindless chauvinist (as Mr. Friedmann charges) nor (as Mr. Traschen in a slightly different context alleges) to become merely “negative.” Those of us who value the system of pluralistic democracy which maintains an imperfect but nevertheless vibrantly real existence in America, who have some appreciation of its delicacy and fragility, and who feel some measure of intellectual humility before what is after all one of the rarest collective achievements of the civilized political spirit—those of us who feel all this will recognize as an enemy of democracy any critic of American society who is demonstrably, even if inadvertently, animated by the desire to discredit rather than the wish to reform the institutions which are the visible embodiments of that spirit. We ourselves will, and do, bend every effort to arrive at a true diagnosis of the real problems the American polity faces, so that we may contribute what we can to such resolution of them as is humanly possible.

But we recognize that the main obstacles to the elaboration of this diagnosis are the misconceptions which have been spread so effectively in recent years by the New Left, the counter-culture, and their assorted apologists and sycophants in the academy, the mass media, and periodicals like the New York Review of Books. If I and some other contributors to COMMENTARY seem “obsessed with those to the Left” of us, it is because that is the direction from which the overwhelming majority of those misconceptions are presently coming. The “continuing analyses” Mr. Traschen is asking for cannot be made responsibly or truthfully unless these barriers to the proper understanding of our corporate situation are swept away by vigorous and principled argument.

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