The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 15, 2018

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Unamerican Activities
Daniel J. Flynn - 04/24/08

Alas, McCarthy’s main sin was tardiness, not inaccuracy. Arriving on the scene in 1950, after the Communist Party had been decimated in the post–Earl Browder upheaval, McCarthy encountered an espionage apparatus in disarray. His aggressiveness made it all the more so.

While Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, and James Burnham gained a level of respect as anticommunists, those anticommunists never foolish enough to have supported the Communists are almost uniformly portrayed as clumsy oafs whose zeal clouded their judgment. Another criterion that helps determine whether intellectuals’ anoint anti-Communists as heroes or goats involved the dichotomy between men of action and men of ideas. Intellectuals, naturally, favor the latter. From the sidelines, the anticommunist intellectuals were free from the mud and grime. But on the field, Pat McCarran, J. Edgar Hoover, and Joe McCarthy got dirty. The opposition’s game plan remained the same regardless of the adversary: declare a witch hunt, focus on inaccuracies, smear the accuser, and hubristically portray Communists as defenders of civil liberties.

A. Mitchell Palmer reappears as Martin Dies, Dies morphs into J. Parnell Thomas, and Thomas reincarnates as Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was the last and largest of these figures, so it is his name that graces history’s text and not merely its footnotes. But remove the variable “McCarthy,” and insert some theoretic anti-Communist, and all the nastiness said of McCarthy would be said of them too. We know this because McCarthy’s red-hunting antecedents bore the same scars, endured the same smears, and suffered the same fates.

Blacklisted by History is even-handed enough to note that McCarthy deserved criticism for his attack on George Marshall, for his mischaracterization of Owen Lattimore as the Soviet Union’s “top Soviet espionage agent” in America, for not reining in Roy Cohn, and for browbeating General Zwicker in front of a television audience, among other transgressions. But this is Joe McCarthy who Evans writes about, and to note his virtues alongside his vices is an endeavor that itself invites blacklisting.

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