Books by Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Released: Sept. 1, 1998

The senior US senator from New York analyzes the roots of America's obsession with government secrecy and convincingly pleads for its dismantling. A stint as chairman of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy provided Moynihan (Miles to Go, 1996; Pandaemonium, 1993; etc.) with a unique vantage point from which to survey our byzantine and bizarre national security apparatus. Moynihan traces much of the impetus for secrecy back to 1917, when the Espionage Act, passed amid revelations about German intelligence efforts in the US, sought to prevent the unlawful obtaining of defense information by foreign governments. As counterproductive as German spying was, so was the response. of the ostensibly liberal Woodrow Wilson, who threatened the civil liberties of German-Americans. The need to protect secrets in WWII resulted in a repeat of this hysteria about loyalty and conspiracy (this time, regarding Japanese-Americans). As noted by historian Richard Gid Powers in his trenchant introduction, Moynihan's most formidable insight (borrowed from Max Weber) is that secrecy is a form of regulation in which bureaucrats hoard secrets like assets. Moynihan's commission learned, for instance, that the US army decoded secret Soviet cables corroborating espionage charges against Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, yet never revealed their existence, even to President Truman. New security organizations such as the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency "prevented [the] American government from accurately assessing the enemy and then dealing rationally with them during this and other critical periods." The costs of this, Moynihan argues persuasively, have been steep: liberal-conservative strife over the existence of Soviet espionage; attacks on civil liberties; presidents entangled in scandal (Watergate doomed Nixon, and Iran-contra almost did the same to Reagan); and ruinous arms-race spending against a rival whose decline the CIA never managed to predict. An intelligent, ironic postmortem on a system that is not only outdated but was flawed from the start. (8 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1996

Liberal social policy—once regnant, now at bay—is the subject of this loosely organized, often bitterly observant collection of essays and speeches by New York's senior US senator. Moynihan (Pandemonium, 1993; On the Law of Nations, 1990) has carved out a niche as the Paul Revere of the Senate, raising alarms at approaching menaces. In the wake of the Republican takeover of the House and Senate in the 1994 midyear elections, Moynihan, one of the few Democratic survivors of the electoral bloodbath, assessed how fellow Democrats (rarely himself—there's an overwhelming whiff of ``I told you so'' here) lost the old consensus for activist government. Moynihan is in a position to know: He worked as an assistant to presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and has served four terms as a Senator. We have, he argues, moved into a postindustrial age in which the economy operates smoothly but social ills proliferate. Our social legislation, largely based on 19th-century European models, is not designed to handle such challenges. We need, he asserts, to rethink the very basis of social legislation. His most heartfelt remarks concern the crisis of illegitimacy, which he first noted in the 1965 Moynihan Report, a paper that sparked such denunciation by various groups as to close off serious discussion for nearly two decades. Now, after left-liberal denials of social problems, we witness punitive welfare legislation (passed over Moynihan's impassioned objections) that verges on ``vengeance against children.'' Other pieces include a dissection of the Clinton administration's bungled attempt at health care reform, an impassioned call to route drug-war funds to programs that can reduce drug use, and an attack on the balanced- budget amendment as a bludgeon that can exacerbate an economic reverse. Hardly a coherent ``history,'' as the subtitle implies, but sobering reflections nonetheless on the cost of precipitous action taken without the benefit of social science research or humane reflection. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1993

A timely, informed plea from New York's senior US senator ``to make the world safe for and from ethnicity.'' Moynihan presented an early version of this material in November 1991 as a lecture at Oxford; he's updated that text with notes on such events as the ``ethnic cleansing'' occurring in Bosnia. There's a certain amount of self-congratulation here (guess which politician, virtually alone in the 80's, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union while the ``realists'' wailed about the Red tide?), but, at his best, Moynihan displays erudition and a mastery of material. Both the American liberal belief in a melting pot and the Marxist belief in class solidarity, he shows, badly underestimated ``the persistence of ethnicity.'' Although a believer in Woodrow Wilson's notion of international law, he points out what a Pandora's box that visionary's concept of ``self- determination'' has proven. Not only did Wilson refuse to apply the concept to America's allies (notably regarding Britain's control of Ireland), but he was ignorant of the idea's presumed beneficiaries and fuzzy about what the term meant in the first place. Moynihan lucidly explains how Communists pushed self-determination for ethnic groups without reconciling this with an international proletarian movement; how the UN Charter has been bedeviled by contradictory clauses on self-determination and noninterference with nations' internal affairs; and how preferential policies for majorities and entrenched minorities, both abroad and at home, exacerbate intergroup conflict. Throughout, the senator's mordant observations on historical myopia are leavened with typically puckish wit (``For years Europeans asked: Why is there no Socialist movement in the United States? The answer may be that we knew better''). The latest in a series (On the Law of Nations, 1990, etc.) demonstrating that Moynihan may be America's foremost literary politician—someone who can advance policy as cogently on the written page as on the stump. Read full book review >