The Politics of Dissent
In Culture and Anarchy, written more than a century ago, Matthew Arnold described a phenomenon that we tend to think is unique to our times rather than his. He expressed it in religious terms: it was the particular pride of Dissenters in dissenting, of Nonconformists in nonconforming, of Protestants in protesting. He quoted the motto of one Nonconformist journal: “The Dissidence of Dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant Religion.”
American radical intellectuals of a later generation might not recognize themselves in that religious guise. Nor would they welcome Arnold’s characterization of their mode of thought as parochial, provincial, and philistine. But some of them, like the writer and critic Dwight Macdonald (1906-82), have been, in fact, secular correlatives of Arnold’s Dissenters—every bit as sectarian in their dissent, and as proud of their status as dissenters. Michael Wreszin’s new biography of Macdonald1 is not only a detailed account of the life of this preeminent dissenter but also a typology of the politics of dissent in this country.
Macdonald was the intellectual archetype of the species, but not the social. Indeed, socially he was untypical. A Wasp among a predominance of Jews (the other most conspicuous non-Jew in this circle, Mary McCarthy, was a quarter-Jew), a product of Exeter and Yale (like his father before him), and married to a woman with an independent income, he hardly fit the stereotype of the New York radical intellectual. Perhaps for that reason, because he was something of an oddity—a “Shabbes Goy,” it was sometimes said—he personified to excess some of the attributes of the group. He was even more self-righteous and moralistic, polemical and acerbic, doctrinaire and sectarian, and with all this, more volatile, adopting and discarding ideas and ideologies with great ease.
Macdonald’s political saga is familiar. A fellow-traveling Communist in the early 1930’s (while working for that bastion of capitalism, Fortune magazine), he became a fellow-traveling Trotskyist after the Moscow Trials. He officially joined the (Trotskyist) Socialist Workers Party in September 1939, just in time to participate in a major factional fight and become one of the charter members of the new Workers Party. Finding that party, too, overly Leninist and Marxist, he left within two years. In the absence of any other organization, he transferred his loyalties to the group around the radical/modernist quarterly Partisan Review, where he served as an editor, resigning in 1943 when the other editors ceased to oppose American participation in World War II. He then founded his own magazine, Politics, an enterprise that lasted all of five years.
Through all these mutations and deviations, two elements remained constant: his contempt for America—for its culture even more than its economy and polity; and his opposition to the war against Hitler, not on pacifist grounds but because he thought capitalism insufficiently better than Nazism to justify that war. He had no illusions about the totalitarian nature of Nazism; in planning to write a book on dictatorship, he had actually read Mein Kampf and histories of the rise of Nazism. But he had long been convinced that fascism was “superior to liberal capitalism as a technique for running modern society,” and at the same time (not entirely consistently) that the capitalist “corporate elite” exercised a dictatorship not unlike that of the fascists and Nazis: “Europe has its Hitlers but we have our Rotarians.”
In his opposition to the war, Macdonald remained unyielding, before and during the war (and afterward, although on different grounds). There was little to choose from, he maintained early on, between the warring “imperialist camps.” America and England were bound to become fascistic, and only by means of a “Third Camp”—the rising of the masses under the leadership of a revolutionary socialist party—could Nazism be overcome.
When the English poet Stephen Spender announced that, in spite of his own socialist convictions and his distaste for the English political establishment, he was prepared to fight “on the side of the Chamberlain system against fascism,” Macdonald excoriated him for abandoning his principles, and reminded him that his precious freedom was a “class commodity”; it might be freedom for an “upper-class literary man” but not for “a cook or a bus driver or a coal miner.” Spender commented on this high-minded refusal to accept the lesser evil: “It’s as much as if Christians were to say, ‘We cannot support the war unless angels armed with swords swoop down from the sky and destroy the Nazis.’” To take Macdonald’s stance, Spender added, was to join the party of “hopeless angels.”
Spender was wiser than he knew. It was not only for the duration of the war that Macdonald joined the party of “hopeless angels”; it was for much of his life. Through most of the divagations in his career, this was the party that he remained faithful to, the party of dissent that could not tolerate any lesser evil. As his early hero Trotsky had held to a theory of permanent revolution—the continuing revolution of the proletariat throughout the world that alone could sustain socialism in Russia—so Macdonald implicitly held to a theory of permanent dissent as the only basis for a moral politics.
It was this spirit that imbued Politics magazine, which, by Macdonald’s own estimate as well as that of his admirers, was the high point of his career. (Although its circulation never rose above 5,000, it had an influence in the New York intellectual community far beyond that number, and was even read abroad by aficionados of radicalism.) The magazine was dedicated to the proposition that radical politics must be subjected to a moral standard, a yardstick of “basic values.”
During the war, this standard damned the Allies as well as the fascists: “Two horrors confront each other in Europe,” Macdonald announced just before VE-Day, “the dying Nazi horror and the surviving Allied horror.” And after the war the same standard found the United States as corrupt as the Soviet Union. Just as the “bureaucratic collectivism” of Communism was the first step to totalitarianism, so the American “military-industrial complex” was preparing for a third world war, while capitalism was creating a degraded popular culture and a dehumanized mass society.
In retrospect, looking at the magazine from the perspective of the present, Macdonald’s biographer finds in it other themes: a protest against racial prejudice (in the case of Japanese-Americans as well as blacks), an article pleading for the toleration of homosexuals, and some intimations of feminism. But these provided only an occasional respite from the main concerns of the journal.
The most memorable contributions were by the French pacifist Simone Weil and by Macdonald himself. Weil’s “The Iliad, or The Poem of Force” (translated from the French by Mary McCarthy) was an eloquent affirmation of the pacifist faith, denouncing not only this “imperialist” war but all war—indeed, any exercise of force—as inevitably reducing men to things, dehumanizing and finally destroying both its victims and its perpetrators.
Macdonald’s long essay, “The Root Is Man,” was no less uncompromising. “The root for mankind,” he quoted a pronouncement of the young Marx, “is man himself.” Man: not history, or science, or economics, but the individual man, a moral being whose ethical dynamic derives from “absolute and nonhistorical values, such as truth and justice.” (Later, he expanded this to include love as well.)
This was not, Macdonald insisted, a retreat to religion, for he was invoking no transcendent authority, nothing but the values of man himself. The war had exposed the evils of science and technology, of nationalism and the bureaucratic state, of Marxism and conventional liberalism. Thus, the true “radical” (as distinct from the political “progressive”) follows not the path of history but his own path; he is concerned not with what is but with what ought to be; and he is not afraid of the label, “utopian socialism.” Radicalism in this sense is anarchic and individualistic, designed to bring about “a free, classless, warless, humanly satisfying society,” in which everyone is assured “complete and immediate satisfaction in his work, his leisure, his sex life, and all other aspects of his nature,” and all men are able to “satisfy their spontaneous needs here and now.”
Macdonald’s essay (appearing in two parts in Politics and later reprinted as a book) was sharply criticized by those radicals who wanted to retain Marxism while rejecting Stalinism, and by others who thought that his vision of man was utopian and hedonistic. But still others, disillusioned with both Marxism and Stalinism, were enticed by this “new politics” that promised sexual as well as all other forms of liberation and that professed to be moral rather than materialistic. Macdonald himself, seeking sexual fulfillment in a passionate but finally unsatisfactory love affair, was attracted to the writings of Paul Goodman and Wilhelm Reich, the gurus of sexual liberation, for whom sexual repression was a form of social oppression. The appearance of these writers in Politics added a fillip to the anarchism and pacifism, the anti-Americanism and anti-Stalinism, that defined the journal in the years following the war.
On a more conventional political level, Macdonald found it difficult to sustain the conjunction of anti-Stalinism and anti-Americanism, as he protested the West’s “appeasement” of the Soviet Union at Yalta, approved of the airlift to protect Berlin, and at the same time castigated the U.S. Army as “a most reactionary organization, whose purpose is mass slaughter.” In May 1949, testifying to his inability to resolve this contradiction, he gave an address entitled “Goodbye to Utopia.” It might more properly have been called “Goodbye to Politics”—to Politics as well as to politics, for a few months later he announced the suspension of the journal.
The 1950’s saw the emergence of a Macdonald intent on personal liberation. Having earlier identified “the root is man” with “selfishness” as a positive good, he was now pleased to inform his wife, after a session with his psychoanalyst, “I’m becoming more selfish by the minute.” To a friend, relating his current affair (which was soon to lead to his divorce and remarriage), he boasted: “The only responsibilities, duties, obligations I will accept are those I want to, those I choose to, freely and spontaneously.” His professional career also took a new turn as he entered the world of the freelance writer, becoming a regular contributor to the New Yorker and, later, to Esquire.
Yet he did not entirely renounce politics. Reviewing Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), he commended her view of totalitarianism as the extreme expression of a rotting bourgeois society. Totalitarian man, he quoted Arendt, was one’s next-door neighbor, a stolid “bourgeois family man.” Yet Macdonald was also much troubled by those liberals, like Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union, who were guilty, he said, of a double standard, accusing the United States of violating civil liberties while condoning the total absence of civil liberties in the Soviet Union.
For a brief while, in reaction against Baldwin and his like, Macdonald found himself defending America against its detractors. But he soon reverted to the theme that dominated most of his essays in this period: the corruption of popular culture and mass society brought about by capitalism. This, rather than Communism, now seemed to him to be the most urgent threat to civilization, and it inspired his most brilliant and caustic articles.2
It was in the New Yorker that he made his name as the scourge of popular culture, thrashing Mortimer Adler’s edition of the Great Books (published by the Encyclopedia Britannica), the revised version of the Bible, the third edition of Webster’s Dictionary, and the Ford Foundation. (The memorable opening sentence of the last essay read: “The Ford Foundation is a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some.”) The essays were scintillating and utterly devastating. Yet there was something anomalous about their appearance in the New Yorker, the purveyor par excellence of popular culture, amid advertisements for the most lavish products of capitalist enterprise. (While Macdonald always defended the New Yorker, at least after he became associated with it, he was merciless toward Life magazine, wickedly delighting in the juxtaposition of an advertisement featuring a well-dressed American family with a photograph of a ragged Bolivian peon.)
There was also an ambiguous note in some of the essays. The most telling points in his indictment of Adler’s Great Books were his criticism of the Syntopicon (the index of ideas) as an attempt to be precise about ideas that could not be precisely defined or categorized; his charge that some of the selections (not only the scientific works but much of Aristotle and Aquinas) were “impenetrable to the lay reader”; and his argument that most of the books were already in print and more fun to buy in separate editions. But there was also an animus against the enterprise as such: a commercial venture designed for a mass market, a “typical expression of the American advertising psyche.” Macdonald was often accused of intellectual snobbery in his condemnation of popular culture, but he was also something of a social snob in his contempt for those who tried to bring high culture to the masses, and for the masses who thought they could buy culture in the vulgar form of a set of great books.
By the early 1960’s, Macdonald had become a leading light in the intellectual establishment, much in demand as a writer, lecturer, itinerant professor, and radio and television commentator. He also enjoyed an active social life. Charming in his inimitable fashion, with a beguiling innocence and self-deprecatory manner that captivated even those who disagreed with him, he was a familiar and welcome presence at cocktail and dinner parties. It was all very gratifying—and surprisingly remunerative. “I tell you, Nick,” he wrote to his good friend Nicola Chiaromonte, “we intellectuals have struck Gold.” While he was attacking “Masscult and Midcult” (mass culture and middlebrow culture) in Partisan Review, he was also indulging his own passion for movies by becoming a film critic for Esquire and a regular commentator on movies on the Today show.
What he rarely did, however, was to write about the high culture he valued so highly. Here, too, Macdonald was a naysayer and dissenter, lavishing his superb polemical skills on destroying a popular (and now little-remembered) best-selling novel by James Gould Cozzens rather than undertaking the kind of sustained critical analysis of a Dostoevsky or a Henry James that his friends were writing for Partisan Review.
The 1960’s saw the emergence of yet another phase in the evolution of the great dissenter—dissenting now not only from bourgeois and mass society but from the old radicalism as well. When the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was formed in 1960, Macdonald was a featured speaker at its first convention, extolling the virtues of anarchism. He soon became a hero of the New Left, joining Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Howard Fast, and other erstwhile enemies (some still unregenerate Stalinists) in denouncing America as “the most feared and hated nation in the world.”
To the distress of some of his friends in the Old Left, Macdonald embraced not only the politics of the New Left—mainly, opposition to the Vietnam war—but also its “counterculture” (while continuing to preach against popular culture). He became a great friend of the “Yippie” Abbie Hoffman, approved of the “Make love, not war” slogan, explained that he was “all for Utopia, an experiment noble in purpose,” joined in protest marches and demonstrations (including one in support of the Black Panthers at Yale), and happily reported to a friend that he was once again “getting all mixed up in dissenting politics.”
He also enthusiastically adopted the confrontational techniques of the new dissenters. Unlike the poet Robert Lowell who, in protest against Vietnam, refused to attend a White House Festival of the Arts in 1965, Macdonald accepted the invitation and used the occasion to solicit signatures for a statement condemning the war and the Johnson administration. He appeared in the Rose Garden ceremony sweating and disheveled, wearing a plaid shirt and tennis shoes, his shirt and underwear, according to some witnesses, having come untucked from his trousers, exposing his “round pink belly.”
Three years later, when the Columbia University “rebellion” started, his friend Fred Dupee, of Columbia’s English department, told him, “You must come up right away, Dwight. It’s a revolution! You may never get another chance to see one.” Arriving at the campus, Macdonald was given the celebrity tour of the occupied buildings. Undisturbed by what others described as wanton destruction, filth, and obscenity, he praised the spirit of “participatory democracy” and the atmosphere of “exhilaration, excitement—pleasant, friendly, almost joyous excitement.” When the critic Diana Trilling indignantly complained that the students had been peeing out of the president’s windows, Macdonald replied: “If anybody’s windows can be peed out of, it’s his windows. He was a big stuffed shirt and of course they got rid of him, thank God.” Later he eulogized the student rebels: “They’re the best generation I have known in this country, the cleverest and the most serious and decent.”
Just as Dupee called upon him to witness the great “revolution” of their time, so Macdonald, after the White House affair, had telephoned Mary McCarthy, then on a wedding trip to Paris, urging her to return home, for it was “becoming just like the 30’s.” In fact, the 60’s were not like the 30’s, when disputation, however misguided, was intellectually serious and sober, and when peeing out of windows was not taken as the ultimate revolutionary act. But for Macdonald, himself turning sixty, the ferment and fervor of that decade were a rejuvenating experience. His rhetoric became as heated as that of the most callow SDS-er: America was the successor to “Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia as a disturber of the peace”; the United States was “the main center of violence in the world today”; President Lyndon Johnson should be impeached because he had a “vigorous and terrifying will, like Hitler and Stalin.” When the poet Delmore Schwartz died, after a lifetime of alcoholism, drug abuse, and psychosis, Macdonald declared him a victim of American society: “Poetry is a dangerous occupation in this country.”
The 70’s were a sad let-down after the frenetic 60’s. Macdonald continued to be a peripatetic professor, but a still younger generation did not give him the recognition he savored, and the older generation was increasingly impatient with him. Always a heavy drinker, he became an alcoholic, and as his physical condition deteriorated (his alcoholism aggravated by the use of barbiturates), his behavior became more erratic and irascible.
The great disappointment of Macdonald’s last years was his writing. It was, finally, as a writer, not as an activist, that he saw himself, and he wrote very little in the decade before his death (in December 1982 at the age of seventy-six). In a sense, he had always been something of a “blocked writer.” Although he was a most felicitous stylist, witty, acerbic, a brilliant phrase-monger and title-inventor, writing had never come easily to him. (He once told me that he wrote disconnected paragraphs, piecing them together when he was finished.) He never wrote “a book in cold blood,” as he put it—one that was not a collection of essays or an expansion of an essay. Now he was incapable of writing anything more ambitious than a movie review.
A more unhappy aspect of Macdonald’s life was his attitude to Jews and Jewish affairs, which issued in repeated charges against him of anti-Semitism. This theme runs like a festering sore throughout Michael Wreszin’s book. It first appears in the mindless jibes of the Waspish Exeter schoolboy and Yale undergraduate, then in the natural defensiveness of a non-Jew confronted with a group of aggressive, arrogant Jewish intellectuals.
But it was the war that strained his relations with some of his friends. From his “plague-onboth-houses” stance, he looked with suspicion on reports of Nazi atrocities. The first oblique reference in Politics to the “contemporary horrors” appeared in the unlikely context of a discussion of Herman Melville’s Redburn, with Macdonald reminding his readers that “official murder” was not started by the Nazis: “A century ago equally revolting and widespread atrocities were inflicted on millions of beings in peacetime by British capitalism.”
This equation of the Holocaust with the “atrocities” of capitalism was made in the spring of 1944, a good year-and-a-half after news of the Holocaust had been reliably reported in America. Not until later that year, with the appearance in Politics of an article on the concentration camps by the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who was himself a survivor of the camps, did Macdonald begin to take the Holocaust seriously. Even then he insisted that it was not a unique event but only further evidence of the dehumanizing effects of the bureaucratic nation-state, of mass society, and of modern war. Nor were the German people responsible for it; indeed, the lynching of blacks in the South was indicative of more widespread racism than the murder of Jews by the Nazis. After the war, more than ever intent upon absolving the German people of responsibility, Macdonald suggested that reports coming out of the death camps were sensationalized, that the raping and pillaging by Soviet soldiers resembled the behavior of the SS and Gestapo, and that Stalinism was a greater danger than Nazism had been.
On a variety of other subjects, Macdonald expressed himself in a manner that was disquieting to many of his friends. He was hardly alone in opposing the creation of a Jewish state; Hannah Arendt, for one, shared this view. But he was more intemperate than most in attributing all Zionist talk to “fascist-revisionist Jews,” and he remained implacably hostile to Israel after its founding and consistently partial to the Palestinians. He was also intolerant of any discussion of Judaism—not only of Zionism but of Jewish religion, tradition, and community. Jewish culture, he said, was provincial and second-rate, rather like his own Scottish culture, and those intellectuals (including his friends) who were writing about it were reverting to the “primitive clannishness” of a “ghetto culture.” If COMMENTARY continued to publish such articles, he predicted, it would lose its intellectual credibility.
The Jewish issue surfaced again and again: when he denied that the French 19th-century socialist Proudhon, who portrayed the Jew as the archetypical international-finance capitalist, was anti-Semitic; or when he supported the award of the Bollingen Prize for poetry to Ezra Pound, who was virulently fascistic and anti-Semitic; or when he criticized Hollywood films about the Bible for making the Romans, instead of the Jews, the “fall goys” [sic] for the crucifixion of Jesus, intimating that this was done by Jewish producers for commercial reasons (because there were more Jews than Romans to pay to see the films); or when he defended Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book on Adolf Eichmann, in which the Nazi war criminal was portrayed as “banal” and Jewish leaders were said to have conspired in the tragedy of their people, and dismissed her critics as Jewish “nationalists” (or, if they were not Jewish, as “Honorary Semites”); or when, in New York’s public-school controversy in 1968, he supported the black school board in Ocean Hill-Brownsville against the teachers’ union, ignoring (as does his biographer) the anti-Semitic statements made by partisans of the board, instead baselessly accusing the union of circulating “racist filth”; or after the Six-Day War of 1967, when he denounced Israel’s treatment of Arab refugees as “disgraceful and disgusting” (having never criticized the Arab treatment of Jews), and dared his “anti-anti-Semitic friends” to make what they would of this, defiantly pronouncing himself “once more an anti-anti-anti-Semite.” And then there were the occasions when he was drunk and made crude anti-Semitic remarks, as at a party in London when, according to his biographer, he “loudly and repeatedly laughed off Auschwitz” in the presence of a woman whose concentration-camp number was tattooed on her forearm.
One does not want to exaggerate the import of any one or even several of these episodes. Anti-Zionism is not tantamount to anti-Semitism, and neither is Arendt’s thesis about Eichmann. Nor should one forget Macdonald’s genuine horror at the Holocaust, once he was convinced it was true (and when he was sober); or his indignation when the American authorities were laggard in helping the victims of Nazism; or his denunciation of a black radical organization when it issued a blatantly anti-Semitic statement. Yet all of those other occasions, over the course of all those years, add up to a pattern, as he himself put it, of anti-anti-anti-Semitism. If even his sympathetic biographer confesses, at one point, to being “unsettled” by the evidence,3 the reader of the biography may find it still more disturbing.
More unsettling still is the kind of radical politics, the politics of dissent, that reveals itself in every stage of Macdonald’s career. Delmore Schwartz once said of him: “Yes, antagonism for its own sake is his appetite and neurosis, and none of his political predictions come true, but he is a master of expository prose.” It is unfortunate that in this biography we have so few sustained examples of his prose, which was indeed brilliant, and all too many examples of his failed predictions. But mainly what we have is his proclivity for “antagonism for its own sake”—the “dissidence of dissent,” as Matthew Arnold put it.
It is this quality that makes Macdonald a hero to his biographer and to those radicals for whom dissent is the token of a principled politics, a purity of mind and elevation of soul that refuse to be contaminated by mundane reality. “Dwight still had his purity intact, if no really viable politics,” Wreszin says of him in the aftermath of World War II, when he found no presidential candidate (including the socialist Norman Thomas) worthy of his vote.
Wreszin finds this an endearing trait—indeed, he sees it as the legacy of Macdonald to the present generation, who may be inspired by his ability “to keep an independent critical intellect alive in a time of strident political and cultural orthodoxy.” The reader, however, recalling Macdonald’s role in the 60’s when he was comfortably ensconced in the orthodoxy of the New Left, may be reminded instead of that wonderful quip by Harold Rosenberg, “the herd of independent minds.” The politics of dissent, it has become all too evident, creates its own strident orthodoxy, in which the “independent critical intellect” tends to lose not only its independence but also its purity and its viability. “When you start looking for purity in politics,” Mario Vargas Llosa says of the Trotskyist hero of one of his novels, “you eventually get to unreality.”
Although this biography furnishes a good deal of the raw material upon which the reader may make his own judgment of Macdonald, his spirit is better captured in the memoirs, fictional and nonfictional, of his friends—conveyed, moreover, with the panache of Macdonald himself. Thus, 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: “His mind and character appeared to him as a kind of sacred trust that he must preserve inviolate. It was as if he were the standard gold dollar against which the currency is measured.”
Another fictional Macdonald appears in Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift (1975), in the character of Huggins, “a famous bohemian dissenter and revolutionist” in his youth who remained, in spite of the ravages of age, “the Harvard radical of the John Reed type, one of those ever-youthful lightweight high-spirited American intellectuals . . . [who] could no more give up his delightful ideological capital than the bonds he had inherited from his father.”4
And then there is William Barrett’s nonfictional portrait in The Truants (1982), one of the best memoirs of this period, which Wreszin does not quote. This is Macdonald in the late 40’s and early 50’s—but it too applies as much to the later Macdonald:
Macdonald desired above all that his politics be pure and avant-garde, detached from any vulgar alignments of power. . . . For him every venture into politics was a leap toward the Absolute. . . . He was a kind of Don Quixote or Galahad, alternately tilting at windmills or in quest of the Holy Grail. Politics for him, I think, was really a groping for salvation of some kind.
Explaining the title of his book, Wreszin places his hero in “the tradition of the rebel who resists and says no to the intolerable absurdities of life, and by doing so makes an affirmative statement,” an “implicit assertion of values.” But consider the “intolerable absurdities” that Macdonald resisted: the war against Nazism, which was not only the greater evil but one of the most monstrous evils of modern times; or the creation of the state of Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust; or the middlebrow culture of America, while embracing the counterculture of the New Left. And consider the kind of “affirmative statement” or “values” that emerged from this indomitable spirit of resistance: that bourgeois society is as degrading and dehumanizing as Soviet totalitarianism; or that the millennia-old Jewish culture is as provincial as Scottish culture; or that anarchism is the only alternative to capitalist politics, indeed the only moral position for the true intellectual.
If this biography teaches us anything, it is that there is no greater vanity or folly—or peril—than a moral posturing that passes for politics, or a politics of dissent that makes a virtue of dissent for its own sake.
1 A Rebel in Defense of Tradition: The Life and Politics of Dwight Macdonald. Basic Books, 590 pp., $30.00.
2 It was also in this period that he became involved in Encounter magazine published in London, an episode I shall not discuss because of my personal involvement in it; in any case it adds nothing new to the portrait of Macdonald.
3 This admission appears in an endnote at the back of the book. More often, Wreszin accepts Macdonald's claim that Jews were being overly “sensitive” and that Macdonald was defending himself against a code of “political correctness.” Wreszin himself repeatedly characterizes Macdonald's critics as “second-generation Jews,” “upwardly mobile intellectuals with immigrant backgrounds,” so insecure as to feel obliged to defend America and Israel rather than join Macdonald in his position of principled dissent against both.
4 A still more memorable vignette by Bellow is of Huggins at a beach party, sitting naked at one end of a log, discussing the McCarthy hearings with a lady sitting naked opposite him. “Huggins was speaking with a cigarette holder in his teeth, and his penis, which lay before him on the water-smooth wood, expressed all the fluctuations of his interest. And while he was puffing and giving his views in a neighing stammer, his genital went back and forth like the slide of a trombone.” Recalling this scene, the narrator comments, “You could never feel unfriendly toward a man of whom you kept such a memory.”