Goodbye to a great American: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

The great American historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., passed away yesterday. Best-known for his service in the Kennedy administration, and his biographies of the Kennedys, Schlesinger was criticized by those who thought that intellectuals should stay out of politics. In my Honors thesis at Brown, a quarter-century ago, I examined the question of the intellectual in politics, through a biography of Schlesinger.

I hope to put the whole biography on-line during the next week. In the meantime, here are two chapters, in PDF:

Ch. 1. Schlesinger learns history from his progressive and brilliant parents. At age 11, his mother tells him to stop interrupting at the dinner table, and he retorts, "Mother, how can I be quiet if you insist on making statements that are not factually accurate?" Although his parents are devoted to the public schools, the Cambridge schools are weak; one day, when young Arthur announces "that our teacher had told us that people in Albania were called Albinos because they had white hair and red eyes," his father gives up, and sends him to Exeter. During World War II, he is turned down by the Navy as a security risk (because his father was so anti-Nazi so early!), gets a military intelligence job instead, and later lands a job teaching at Harvard, holding only a B.A.

Ch. 6. The 1960 campaign. Schlesinger and the other liberal intellectuals face intense liberal pressure to stick with Stevenson, and a furious reaction when they defect to Kennedy, who is considered a right-wing machine politician. The maneuvers of Kennedy, Humphrey, Stevenson, and Johnson during the primaries and convention. Schlesinger as a liberal lightening rod for southerners and Republicans. Kennedy's Machiavellian post-election strategy on appointments. Once the appointments are finished, Harvard concludes that it runs the country. (The link on this has been fixed.)

Re-reading the 1960 chapter, I was struck by many parallels to contemporary politics; that's one reason why history deserves study. As a brilliant writer and erudite scholar who loved America and loved American history, Arthur Schlesinger set an admirable example of an intellectual engaged in public life.

UPDATE: Now available: Chapter 9, about the assassination of President Kennedy, the early LBJ administration, and the incredible pressure that Johnson exerted on Kennedy loyalists such as Schlesinger to continue to work at the White House, and Robert Kennedy's carpet-bagging 1964 run for the New York Senate, which was saved in part by what Robert Kennedy called the greatest mission to the Jews since the New Testament: Schlesinger and John Kenneth Galbraith campaigning for Kennedy votes among New York Jews.

Chapter 10, Schlesinger's biographies of John and Robert Kennedy, including the huge controversy when Schlesinger claimed that President Kennedy was planning on firing Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

STILL MORE: Chapter 2. Schlesinger's Pulitizer Prize-winning The Age of Jackson links Jackson's battle against plutocracy with FDR's.

Chapter 4. The 1952 Presidential campaign. Schlesinger serves as a speechwriter for the ever-indecisive Adlai Stevenson, and tries to pull him to the left. Stevenson's campaign is demolished.

AND MORE: Chapter 3, The Vital Center. The founding of liberal anti-communism. Schlesinger denounces the stupidity of the isolationist business conservatives, but directs his most scathing attacks to the delusional utopian left. Some great examples for modern writers for how to be sharply critical, funny, and erudite--and without using any foul words.

Chapter 5. Liberal intellectuals try to cope with the stagnation of the Eisenhower years. In the disastrous 1956 Stevenson campaign, America fails to heed their call for strong leadership and national vigor.