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Monday, November 12, 2007

Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination was the first of a wave of terrorists from the Middle East to strike out against the United States

Very Magic Bullet Theory By JACOB HEILBRUNN
NYT Sunday Book Review: November 11, 2007
Piereson’s argument is simple but fundamental: the culture war began with Kennedy’s death. It upended the complacent assumptions of postwar liberalism and ushered in the rise of the radical left by corroding faith in American government and values. While leading liberals like Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Bell and others had focused on the dangers posed by the radical right during the 1950s, they were looking in the wrong direction. It was, in fact, an energized 1960s left that propagated conspiracy theories about America’s malevolence and that posed, and continues to pose, a subversive threat.
As Piereson sees it, the mischief began with distorted interpretations of Kennedy’s death issued by commentators like James Reston of The New York Times, who suggested that America itself was somehow to blame, that its institutions were failing and that the only way it could redeem itself was through carrying on Kennedy’s legacy by passing civil rights legislation, which Lyndon B. Johnson did. Not so, Piereson says. It wasn’t a failure of America or even a right-wing nut that killed Kennedy. It was a hard-core Communist.
According to Piereson, “if Oswald shot Kennedy and if Oswald was a Communist and an admirer of Castro and the Soviet Union, then it followed that Communism was the large cause behind the assassination and, further, that Kennedy was a martyr to the ideals at stake in the cold war.”
Similarly, he maintains that Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan has been badly misinterpreted by the regnant left. Sirhan wasn’t a product of American lawlessness, as some claimed at the time, but “the first of a wave of terrorists from the Middle East to strike out against the United States in retaliation for the nation’s policies in that region.”
Throughout, Piereson’s own real target is the left. He doesn’t like it. He draws a direct link between Lee Harvey Oswald and the 1960s radicals, observing, “Very few of those radicals understood ... that they advanced their cause in close ideological kinship with the assassin of John F. Kennedy.” The neoconservatives, Piereson says in summation, are Kennedy’s true legatees. Even as the left attacked liberal institutions as a fraud, he writes, intellectuals like Daniel Bell defended them. This is true. But Piereson goes astray in both tone and substance in describing these events.
For one thing, far from being Oswald’s ideological soul mate, the left espoused antinomian and inchoate impulses that looked back, as Samuel Huntington observed in his brilliant “American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony,” to older, idealistic strains in American history. While some radicals rejected America, most were demanding, however incoherently, that it improve itself. Nor does Piereson take into account that Hofstadter and other members of the so-called consensus school of the 1950s were never blind to the left. The fact is that they were all too familiar with it. They had emerged from the bitter factional disputes of the 1930s and were aghast that a new generation seemed intent on replicating the follies of an earlier one.
Piereson confidently concludes that Hofstadter might have “found his way into the neoconservative camp had he not died prematurely.” No, he wouldn’t have. Instead, Hofstadter, who described the 1960s as the age of “rubbish,” would most likely have used the same word about this book.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a regular contributor to the Book Review. CAMELOT AND THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. By James Piereson. 253 pp. Encounter Books. $25.95.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who associates with the Manhatten Institute wouldnt recognize or respond to True Culture if it was shining at them via a million watt light globe.