Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Alger Hiss Chair at Bard College

Academia’s love affair with the Radical Left is a great puzzle to some of us, even those of us who once subscribed to that position. After all, if we came to a point where the evidence against the benevolence of Communism and Communists overwhelmed us, why didn’t everyone else? What causes these die-hards, these Leftist intellectuals, to hang in there and support what to those of us who diligently examined the evidence is a malevolent system?

Reading Haynes and Klehr’s In Denial, Historians, Communism & Espionage, is a bit tedious in that they document details I’ve long since taken for granted. But I understand their reasoning. The great cause célèbre of the American Left is the defense of Alger Hiss. Conspiracy theories galore were created by the Left to “prove” that the FBI concocted evidence against him, witnesses were unqualified or else were enticed to perjure themselves, etc., etc. The Rosenberg’s son devoted his life to clearing their name, but eventually all the defensive explanations collapsed in the face of KGB documentation and Venona files that demonstrated to those with even a modicum of objectivity and suspension of disbelief, that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of what he was executed for. Ethyl Rosenberg was less guilty perhaps, but there is also ample evidence against her.

Who cares after all this time? If you haven’t been following the defensive machinations of the American intellectual Left, you might be surprised. On page 210 of the Haynes-Klehr book, they write, “In the academic world, the movement to honor Soviet spies and Stalinist acolytes had long been under way. Bard College, an elite liberal arts school in New York, created the ‘Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies’ in honor of the most highly placed Soviet spies ever to betray the American people. The longtime holder of the Alger Hiss professorship is Joel Kovel, who has fittingly written that the United States is the ‘enemy of humanity.’ Kovel dedicated his book Red Hunting in the Promised Land not merely to one Soviet spy, Hiss, but also to a second, Harry Magdoff.”

Here is a comment about the Bard College Alger Hiss Chair by Robert Fulford, the Canadian Journalist: The article was written in 2004, shortly after Haynes and Klehr wrote their book. Fulford wrote, “American leftists insisted for decades that Hiss was falsely condemned. When a mountain of evidence proved the case against him (and many others), the defenders began suggesting that maybe spying actually didn't matter. In the pages of The Nation, the innocence of Hiss was proclaimed obsessively for four decades. When that position finally became untenable, Victor Navasky, long-time editor of The Nation and now also a Columbia journalism professor, asked: 'Espionage, is it really so wrong?' (If he'd thought of that 25 years earlier, his writers could have been saved the trouble of producing all those Hiss-exonerating articles.)”


In Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama assumed there wasn’t anything out there on the political horizon that could compete with Liberal Democracy. He was arguing from the point of view of the Russian-French philosopher Kojeve that Hegel was right after all and Marx wrong. Marx disagreed with Hegel and thought the “end of history” would be Communism. But after the fall of the USSR, Fukuyama could invoke Kojeve and disagree with Marx. No, Communism is not the “end of history.” Hegel was right after all. Capitalism, aka Liberal Democracy, is the “end of history.” By “end of history” they meant the final social and economic system. Liberal Democracy defeated the only two contenders in existence in the 20th century, Fascism and Communism. Oh yes, some are now saying Islamism is a threat, but Fukuyama doesn’t consider that a serious one (and I won’t revisit that here). As for Communism? It is dead. It is a thing of the past. Some would urge the die-hard Leftists to get over it and reap the benefits of the “end of history.”

In light of Fukuyama’s argument, what are we to make of the Alger Hiss Chair in Social Studies at Bard College and those who still love Communism and hate Liberal Democracy? A few considerations come to mind, but I’ll mention just two:

First. Hatred of an enemy doesn’t necessarily dissipate once a war is over. I knew a Russian émigré engineer named Eugene Orloff who hated the Japanese and would never forgive them. What was his complaint? When his family escaped from Russia they ended up in China during the Japanese occupation. They were very badly treated by the Japanese. Communist sympathizers seem to hate the U.S. with the same intensity that Gene Orloff hates the Japanese. Perhaps it can be assumed that such hatred will die off as the haters die off.

Second. There is good evidence that we are a religious species. If we grow up to reject the religion we were raised with, that doesn’t mean we will do without. Most of us will take something else up and believe in it with religious intensity. It has long been observed that belief in Fascism and Communism can take on religious intensity. Eric Hoffer in The True Believer wrote about Fascist and Communist fanatics, and while Joel Kovel, the holder of the Alger Hiss Chair at Bard College probably isn’t that sort of fanatic, he seems to believe so fervently in something that has no evidence to support it (the Communist paradise) that it requires a level of faith we usually associate with religion. Not only has the Marxist-Leninist Communist paradise never become a success, the greatest example has been an abysmal and tragic failure. But if someone advances an argument that our religious hopes are false, that there is no God, no heaven and no salvation, do we believe him? Christian believers have never seen the risen Jesus Christ, and yet they have faith in him. By the same token Kovel and the other Radical Leftists have faith in the Communist paradise. It doesn’t need to have succeeded in the USSR. They have faith that it will one day succeed some place. Theirs is a sort of intellectual religion and whether it will last any longer than Gene Orloff’s hatred of the Japanese remains to be seen. In the meantime the rest of us shake our heads at the Alger Hiss chair and the fellow who sits there.

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