Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is the subject of a biography, “Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian"

Historians in the News
tags: Arthur Schlesinger Jr, The Imperial Historian, Richard Aldous



David Marcus is the Literary Editor of The Nation

Related Link Why another Arthur Schlesinger, presidential historian, is unlikely

... Writing never presented a problem for Schlesinger. Between his 1939 debut on Brownson and his 50th birthday, he published 11 books—many 400 to 500 pages long—and hundreds of articles and book reviews. In the 40 years that followed, he continued the pace, publishing seven more books and writing thousands of journal entries, which two of his sons, Andrew and Stephen, posthumously published in 2007.

But what made Schlesinger’s output so remarkable was not only the quality of his prose or how he synthesized other scholarship into bold new glosses. It was also that he wrote so much, and so well, while juggling demanding day jobs and moonlight responsibilities. -Between his graduation from college and 1963, when he left the White House, Schlesinger was rarely just a historian. During the Second World War, he was a propagandist and intelligence analyst, working for the Office of Wartime Information and the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services. In the early postwar years, he postponed a Harvard appointment to work as a journalist in Washington, where he wrote a series of well-circulated articles and was an active member in a variety of liberal anticommunist fronts, including Americans for Democratic Action and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. (In an uncharacteristically underdeveloped aside, Aldous notes that in these years Schlesinger also was “still on the books of the CIA as a consultant.”)

But Schlesinger’s main distraction was electoral politics, especially Democratic Party politics. Through the relationships he cultivated in postwar Washington, he found himself enlisted in Averell Harriman’s bid for president in 1952, then Adlai Stevenson’s in 1956, and then—most fatefully—in Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, for which he was awarded a post in the White House.

Throughout these years, Schlesinger often hid his political ambitions behind his scholarly bow ties and credentials. But a considerable amount of cunning—and sometimes outright deception—paved his way from Harvard Yard to the White House. When he jumped from Harriman’s sinking ship to Stevenson’s more promising one, he shared, as Aldous tells us, “inside knowledge about Harriman to help Stevenson knock him out of the race.” And when he ditched Stevenson for JFK, he recruited a group of fellow Stevenson intellectuals—John Kenneth Galbraith and Henry Steele Commager among them—to publicly endorse Kennedy and thereby prevent old Adlai from considering a third run.

Schlesinger’s betrayals of Harriman and Stevenson stung both men greatly. They also haunted Schlesinger, who knew how much he owed to their early confidence in him. (Of his Stevenson betrayal, he confessed: “I felt sick about it, and still feel guilty and sad.”) But Schlesinger also came to believe that his choices were justified: If liberals were to be close to power—if they were one day to be in power—they had to engage in its brutal “power realities.” ...




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