THE PIED PIPER: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream by Richard Cummings
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THE PIED PIPER: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Did student leader and antiwar activist Allard Lowenstein (1929-1980), sparkplug of the Dump Johnson movement, work for the CIA--as an anti-Communist liberal committed to ""the system""? For this new, full, detailed biography (a contrast to David Harris' flimsy Dreams Die Hard), Cummings appears to have interviewed every known Lowenstein intimate and contact. His depiction of Lowenstein as a political child-prodigy, distributing FDR literature and collecting funds for Loyalist Spain at age eight, is fascinating per se. His characterization of Lowenstein as an insecure, egotistical, manipulative political being, in private school (Ethical Culture, Horace Mann) and college (Frank Graham's U. of North Carolina), strikingly resembles the portrayals, by Robert Caro and others, of LBJ himself--extending to cultivation of elder-statesmen mentors and devoted, abused followers. (This may also be biographical fashion: the powerhouse idealist as demagogue and sham.) More nebulous and tenuous is the line Cummings attempts to trace between Lowenstein's early exposure to Ethical Culture reformism (antitotalitarian, gradualist), ""the arcane and often incongruous world of anti-Communism,"" and Lowenstein's possible role as a CIA Cold War operative. According to Cummings, student representative Lowenstein was asked by the ""State Department"" to report on an international youth conference in Geneva in 1948 (and whether or not the request was a CIA ploy, ""the report most probably fell into"" CIA hands); more crucially, he may indeed have known, as National Student Association president in 1950-51, of the organization's CIA funding and direction; most crucially of all, he may have directly served the CIA in Africa and Spain from the late-1950s to the mid-1960s (and perhaps again in the 1970s)--by mobilizing pro-Western opposition to reactionary regimes, to offset Communist influence. (Some of this is ascribed to unidentified sources; some is denied by Lowenstein companions.) Lowenstein is said, furthermore, to have seen the civil rights struggle and the Vietnam War in the same, anti-Communist/pro-""system"" light. ""Whether Lowenstein was on loan to the peace movement or whether he joined it and the effort to relieve the nation of the excesses of Lyndon Johnson in the purity of Democratic conviction may never be known."" Finally, Cummings concludes, Lowenstein the one-term congressman and losing candidate ""became a victim of the system he devoted his life to saving. . . They ignored or misinterpreted what he was trying to teach them and rejected him."" Unlike many similarly tendentious and conjectural works, however, this one is packed with credible individuals, curious episodes, personal and political particulars of some consequence--and makes suggestive, often absorbing reading whatever the truth of the matter or the validity of Cummings' interpretations.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1985
Publisher: Grove