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NOT WITHOUT HONOR by Richard Gid Powers


The History of American Anticommunism

by Richard Gid Powers

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-02-925301-2
Publisher: Free Press

 Powers (History/CUNY, Staten Island), author of Secrecy and Power (1987), on one of the defining concepts of 20th-century American politics. Few things have provided as clarifying a political acid test- -as well as rallying point--in American politics as anticommunism. From President Wilson to President Reagan, politicians were defined in large part by their stance on this crucial issue, especially in the Cold War years following WW II. Powers characterizes American anticommunism as a ``complex, pluralistic movement,'' and in his overview of its history it becomes apparent that anticommunism has encompassed a broad spectrum of beliefs, from uninformed paranoia to intellectual neoconservatism. Less strong is the author's assertion that the movement's story is not one of extremism. His own pages are full of vivid examples of anticommunist heavy- handedness, starting with the 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, who conducted a brutal, iniquitous, glory-seeking bust of communist groups in 23 states in 1920. In later years Joseph McCarthy famously imagined Reds throughout American political and cultural life, while Richard Nixon fanned paranoid anticommunist flames and rode that paranoia to power. On the responsible side? Well, there is historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who redefined anticommunism for American liberals as the struggle between free and totalitarian societies in his 1948 book The Vital Center. Powers sums up anticommunism as a positive force, citing a 1990 article from Foreign Policy: ``Anticommunism envisioned a strong and positive purpose for America, a leadership role not just in containing Soviet communism but in expanding and perfecting democratic capitalism.'' Perhaps it is a testament to his evenhandednesss, perhaps it is due to the memorable lunacy of American anticommunist rage, that this statement, made at the end of his book, retains a wistful quality. Anticommunism informed and twisted the political discourse of this country and this century, and Powers provides a knowledgeable view of the phenomenon. An illuminating book.