by Ellen Schrecker ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1998
It is no easy task bringing new life to an era already as dissected as the McCarthy era, yet this is what Schrecker (History/Yeshiva Univ.; No Ivory Tower, 1986, etc.) accomplishes in a magnificent study of how and why McCarthyism happened and how its shadow still darkens our lives. McCarthyism, for the author, was no historical anomaly, nor was it the latest version of American populist anti-intellectualism, as the liberal explanation at the time would have it. It was, rather, a right-wing conspiracy, and a particularly effective one: ""the most widespread and longest lasting wave of political repression in American history."" This disparate group of persons and organizations included, among others, ambitious politicians (think Nixon), the American Legion, former Communists, anti-union business leaders, Catholic trade-union activists, and (connecting and coordinating it all) Hoover and the FBI. Together, they were able to create and propagate an image of American Communists as not merely dissenters but as a dangerous monolithic presence whose very existence threatened the safety and security of the US. Convinced of American Communism's absolute evil--a stereotype based in part on the party's very real proclivities for secrecy, prevarication, and fealty to Moscow--any repression could be seen as necessary. Most provocative is Schrecker's analysis of the legacy of McCarthyism. Quite simply, she notes, ""McCarthyism destroyed the left."" Organized labor was tamed, dissenting voices on foreign policy were silenced, scholarship was rendered obedient to the prevailing political winds, popular culture became vapid and monochromatic. But the deepest loss was of an American tradition in which activism and outrage were a vigorous part of the political culture. When a new left did emerge in the 1960s, it had no immediate predecessors to learn from, for a whole generation of activists had been lost. This is a marvelous and chilling work; it reminds us how easily democratic processes can be jettisoned in the name of national security.
Pub Date: May 1, 1998
Page Count: 592
Publisher: "Little, Brown"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998
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