In response to Lee Congdon’s review of The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream (Chronicles, July 1986), I would like to make the following points.

Allard Lowenstein’s affiliation with the CIA is well-documented in the book. My sources in military intelligence and the CIA, while wishing to remain anonymous, are well-in formed. The vast documentation I employ supports their information. Moreover, Lowenstein’s own CIA file clearly indicates that he was recruited by the Agency in 1962 to be used on an “ad hoc basis.” The date conforms to the one given to me by my intelligence sources. The file contains the CIA authorization for Lowenstein’s CIA personnel security check and states that Lowenstein had on several occasions said he had “done some work for the CIA.” This supports the information provided to me by sources in military intelligence and the CIA that Lowenstein had smuggled an anti-Communist Namibian student out of South Africa in 1959 at the behest of the CIA so he could testify at the United Nations as part of America’s effort to get South Africa to change its policies in South West Africa and at home.

Lowenstein informed on suspected Communists in the civil rights movement. Several entries by Lowenstein in his diary confirm this. I make it clear that Lowenstein was genuinely opposed to racial segregation, just as he was to apartheid, and indicate in the book that his anti-Communism and his affiliation with the CIA were part of his idealism, not a contradiction of it. As Patrick Buchanan has commented:

I know you’ve gotten a lot of heat on this-but you’re well within a tradition, i.e. telling truths the left doesn’t want to hear. Remember the response those two New Republic writers got a few years ago when they argued that the Rosenbergs had indeed been guilty? As to Lowenstein, your revelations about his CIA links may disorient and dismay his leftist fans—but it makes his memory all the more intriguing and likeable to me! I always believed him to be an idealist and this new information corroborates that belief. 

Lowenstein’s powerful homoerotic impulses were widely and profoundly experienced by many of his friends. My book contains numerous named sources who confirm this. Other authoritative treatments of this issue arc the July 1981 article by Larry Bush in the New York Native and David Harris’ Dreams Die Hard.

Congdon misstates Lowenstein’s position on South Africa. Contrary to what Congdon says, Lowenstein did not advocate violent immediate change. He opposed the African National Congress and was close to the white Nationalist government at the time of his death. He was also being paid by Harry Oppenheimer of Anglo American Corporation and DeBeers to advise the white South African establishment on how to avoid a violent revolution. He was reporting his findings during his last trips to South Africa in 1979 to the then-Deputy Director of the CIA, Frank Carlucci. I am not a “paranoid” leftist who sees a CIA plot behind everything, as Congdon alleges.

I am a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and a one-time Attorney Advisor with the Agency for International Development. I was also a member of the staff of former Assemblyman Perry B. Duryea Jr., the Speaker and later the Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly and the Republican candidate for Governor of New York in 1978.

        —Richard Cummings
Bridgehampton, NY

Conservatives have attacked Walter Berns more than once; many of us recall his pointed exchanges with Professor Harry V. Jaffa in National Review and This World. But Lee Congdon may be the first to call him a liberal.

True, Berns praises strict “construction” of the Constitution and despises “activist” judges. True, he defends capital punishment and attacks radical profs. Yes, he scorns pacifism, detests Communism, and would plug our ears at the first siren note of “World Government.” He would censor pornography, preserve the electoral college, bury the ERA, maybe nuke the Catholic bishops. But still he is a liberal, “quintessentially.”

“Quintessential” liberalism, accord ing to Mr. Congdon, consists of two characteristics: a “reliance on” “penchant for” what he calls “abstract thinking,” and a “belief in the essential goodness of nature, including human nature.” On these matters, Mr. Congdon would play Burke to Berns’s Paine, Babbitt to his Rousseau. 

Most of Berns’s complimentary references to Rousseau in In Defense of Liberal Democracy occur in the chapter on pornography, wherein he praises Rousseau for advocating censorship. That is, Berns praises one of Rousseau’s most “illiberal” writings, the Letter to D’Alembert. He never endorses Rousseau’s optimism in regard to human nature. Berns does not equate nature with spontaneity or the absence of civilization, as does Babbitt’s Rousseau. 

Congdon contrasts “abstract think ing” with “historical thinking,” which he describes as a better means by which to perceive “reality.” (Sure enough, Congdon is a historian.) He criticizes Berns for saying that “the times, to the extent possible, must be kept in tune with the Constitution” and not vice versa. Congdon replies that “the Constitution is not, and can not be, an 18th-century document,” but is rather “the record of a people’s historical decisions” during and after the century in which it was originally framed. As an example, he cites Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, reflecting not a rediscovery of constitutional principle but a shift of American public opinion in favor of racial integration.

There are at least two problems with this critique. First, Berns cites statistics showing that racial integration actually has decreased since the 1940’s, at least in housing. Opinion polls may not entirely reflect opinion on this matter, as Americans have polled themselves “with their feet.” The Supreme Court may or may not reflect public opinion here. The phrase “a people’s historical decisions” thus contains more ambiguity than Congdon’s confident italics admit.

Second, Berns never regards the Constitution as a mere “18th-century document.” Like Publius, he insists that our Constitution was written for Americans in generations to come. To reduce it to a series of decisions, popular or Courtly, denies the clearly stat ed intentions of the founders, and in so doing fails one test of historical accuraCy, namely, that it answers the question, “What did these people think they were doing. Of course, one always must interpret men’s writings and actions, but surely Mr. Congdon does not mean to argue the case for subjectivism here. If so, “historical thinking” as a window on reality must shatter.

Congdon extends this epistemological critique to Berns’s teacher, Leo Strauss, “for whom historical thinking was a form of nihilism.” Although I have read several books by Strauss, and serve on the editorial board of a journal edited by men who sh1died with him, I am unaware. of this alleged Straussian opinion. Strauss’s profound respect for Thucydides (a “historical thinker,” surely?) may be seen by any one who reads Chapter III of The City and Man. What Strauss did attack was historicism, the doctrine claiming that (1) no thinker or thought transcends his/its “time”; and (2) historicism and historicists are nonetheless exempt from this stricture, because their “time” is itself “absolute,” somehow.

To what extent Congdon should be classified not as a historian but as a historicist (subspecies conservative) is impossible to determine fairly by examining one brief article. He appears to “credit divine revelation,” which no historicist does, except in certain senses so highly qualified as to be nearly empty.

On the other hand, he does claim that one can avoid moral relativism in particular and nihilism generally with out having recourse to either divine revelation or natural right. “We judge one law to be better than another in the same way that we judge anything—by means of comparison.” But if, for example, I read one law permitting abortion on demand and another prohibiting it, how do I judge “better” or “worse” without reference to some principle transcending both laws?

“We do not need an absolute right or law in order to be able to make discriminations. Congdon writes, “any more than we must show Shakespeare to be the absolute (or perfect) writer or else confess our inability to make any valid claim respecting his literary preeminence.” This is an out right non sequitur. The equation “Shakespeare is to other writers what natural law or right is to particular laws” simply has no logical symmetry.

Moreover, I cannot find Shakespeare superior to, say, Gary Snyder by merely comparing their verses. That exercise would turn up similarities and differences, but would tell me nothing about the superiority of the one to the other. For purposes of judgment, I need some “third term,” qualitatively different from either of the phenomena to be judged. I think Congdon should read Berns more carefully before judging-by whatever standard. He may find that one who defends liberal democracy, especially in today’s circumstances, need not be a liberal.

        —Will Morrisey Queens College

Prof. Congdon Replies:

Mr. Cummings says that he came to praise Al Lowenstein, not to bury him. If that is so, why all the fuss? Even before his book appeared, friends of the late liberal activist circulated a volume entitled Documentation Concerning Serious Factual Errors in Forthcoming Books by Richard Cummings Purportedly About Allard K. Lowenstein. In the New York Review of Books (10 October 1985), Hendrik Hertzberg, a friend from the civil rights movement, charged that Cummings had committed something akin to “the attempted murder of a dead man’s honor.” In the New York Times Book Review (14 April 1985), Ronald Radosh, who, interestingly enough, was one of the “New Republic writers” to whom Patrick Buchanan refers, wrote that Cummings’ protestations of respect for Lowenstein did “not ring true.” Indeed, as I argued, Cummings sought to discredit Lowenstein and thus to destroy any residual faith in the prospects of nonrevolutionary change. To make matters worse, he based his slander almost entirely on the testimony of unnamed accusers. True enough, he assures us that these informants are reliable, but neither I nor the other reviewers believe that he is. What he describes as “vast documentation,” I call tendentious misreading, speculation, and hearsay. And as for Lowenstein’s CIA file, I seem to recall that, prior to publication, Cummings failed in his bid to obtain it.

Based upon Hertzberg’s testimony, I conclude with sadness that Cummings is on more solid ground when he speaks of Lowenstein’s “homoerotic impulses.” Still, it seems clear that the man was not an active homosexual. In any event, what purpose was served by making this public? No doubt Cummings hoped to exhibit a pattern of deceit and hypocrisy. I consider this strategem to be mean and low, and I repeat what I wrote in my review: The Pied Piper is a reckless and malicious book.

Mr. Morrisey raises a number of important and complex questions. Perhaps I should begin by saying that I do take a dim view of Leo Strauss, who refused to recognize any distinction between historical thinking and historicism. (On this distinction, see John Lukacs’ outstanding work, Historical Consciousness.) That he respected Thucydides is not surprising, for as R. G. Collingwood observed, the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War “is not the successor of Herodotus in historical thought but the man in whom the historical thought of Herodotus was overlaid and smothered beneath anti-historical motives.”

I have said that I believe in God’s law and that I can stipulate, with some measure of precision, what that law enjoins. I do not believe in natural law, which I take to be the product of the rational imagination, ideals extrapolated from historical experience. How then are we to defend or criticize statutory laws in a secular society? Again, I say, on the basis of comparison. This would be impossible if all laws were identical, but because they differ, we can in principle choose those that are better, if not necessarily best. To be sure, we will want to know who does the choosing, not everyone possesses the education and experience required to judge wisely. If we wish to think seriously about laws, we will look to those—very much including Professor Berns—who possess the knowledge of legal tradition necessary to make discriminations which, though fallible, are yet authoritative. Informed judgment is neither arbitrary nor “subjective”; it appeals to standards embodied in a tradition. Disagreement there will surely be, but so is there with respect to the content of so-called natural law. The appeal to tradition makes possible an ongoing conversation about justice that is based upon concrete evidence rather than abstract speculation. It is, incidentally, by virtue of those discriminatory powers developed through familiarity with literary tradition that we can affirm without much fear of contradiction that Shakespeare is superior to Gary Snyder, whoever he may be. I grant that philistines may prefer Snyder, but they are not competent to judge.