|Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society (Verso, 2014)
In this book the work of Walter Lippmann is cited. It is in this context that I reproduce Charles Beard's 1937 letter to Maury Maverick regarding Lippmann's forthcoming book, An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society. Beard's letter is a good example of the Progressive mind at the height of its powers.
|Brian Van De Mark, "Beard on Lippmann: The Scholar vs. the Critic"
The New England Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Sep., 1986), pp. 402-405
New Milford, Conn., Sept. 8 , Copyright 1986 by William Beard and Detlev Vagts.
CHARLES A. BEARD, one of America's greatest twentieth-century scholars, resigned from his teaching position at Columbia University in 1917. He retired to his house in New Milford, Connecticut, overlooking the Housatonic River valley, where for the next thirty-one years he lived and wrote. At New Milford, Beard continued to follow contemporary affairs closely. During the 1920s and 1930s, as economic prosperity gave way to depression, Beard's celebrated antipathy toward the "plutocracy" intensified. As an oracle of Wall Street conservatism, the New York Herald Tribune--together with its famous columnist Walter Lippmann-- attracted Beard's disfavor.
Beard voiced his aversion to Lippmann in a remarkably frank letter to Maury Maverick in 1937. Maverick, a liberal Democratic congressman from Texas and a staunch supporter of FDR's New Deal, had been invited by the publishing house of Little, Brown to review Lippmann's forthcoming book, An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society. Before answering, Maverick contacted Beard for his impressions of the renowned journalist.
Beard responded promptly and pungently. Since he destroyed his personal papers a few years later, Beard's letter to Maverick provides rare insight into his private thought. It also reveals this progressive historian's mature reflections on the role of wealth in society. Perhaps most important, however, the letter represents a renowned scholar's judgment of a renowned journalist and political philosopher.
The letter resides among Maury Maverick's papers at the BarkerTexas History Center, University of Texas, Austin.(1) It is published here with the kind permission of William Beard and Detlev F. Vagts, who hold copyright to the letter.
DEAR MAURY MAVERICK,
Delighted to hear that you are reviewing Lippmann and I wired you my sentiments in short form. Maybe this will reach you in time. If not the telegram will suffice.
I have known Lippmann since the days before the founding of the New Republic(2). He was then expounding a socialist philosophy of a mild brand.(3) He left the New Republic to edit the [New York] World, which he edited into its grave.(4) A short time afterward he was taken up by the [New York] Herald Tribune as a columnist(5) and has been going Right as fast as his supple legs will take him.
Lippmann is a man of agile mind and great natural gifts, especially of linguistic expression. He can make as clear as sunlight to tired business men and fat dowagers who read the Tribune things that are clear only to Almighty God. His writings are strewn with black and white contradictions as sharp as the contradictions in a life-long battle between a monk and the Devil. He is not a bottom[-]searching student of anything but has a superficial knowledge of many things. His forte is to display diluted omniscience with a dexterity that gratifies the now battered and dingy Lords of Creation who beat their income taxes and hang on to their ill-gotten gains with the frenzy of a dipsomaniac. Amid all his outpourings there are often flashes of insight and justice with which I sincerely agree. I do not think that he is a bad man. He is a befuddled man now wining and dining with the boys of the main chance. He loves their praise and their fleshpots.
Nothing can daunt his conceit, not even the repudiation of his whole gang in November, 1936.(6) He is utterly unable to distinguish between his opinions and his knowledge, between his private emotions and the facts in any case. He thumps his tub as if he were God. He is handicapped only by his inability to emit fire and brimstone through the printer's ink of his column. Over all his ratiocinations he sprinkles the odor of a sickly humanism as thick as the smell of magnolia blossoms which apologists of the good old days in the South spread over the sweat of slave gangs.
I reject the idea that Lippmann has sold out to the rich. Some men do not sell out. They go over gradually through association. They are buttered by flattery. They sink gently into soft carpets and cushions. Having no steel in their systems, having never slept on the hard ground, they hanker after those things that tend to effeminacy, and plutocracy provides just those things. Men of letters who butter plutocracy have been scarce in history. Henry Adams despised it.(7) So did Henry James (8) and Edith Wharton (9) (a woman of sharp and bitter letters). It is almost impossible to find a great novel or a grand work on philosophy or religion that flatters the rich. The rich can buy art easily with their millions. But it is a rare find for them to catch a Lippmann and they are tickled to death, like a child with new boots. They feel better when they are informed that right reason, justice, good sense, God's truth, all history, all sound economics, all scientific sociology, are enlisted on their side.
In summary, I feel about Lippmann about as Dean [Jonathan] Swift felt about James I, a[s] disclosed in the Tale of a Tub, Appendix on "the History of Martin." He does things to himself when there is no danger.(10)
|1. Maury Maverick, Sr., Papers, General Correspondence 1937-38, Box 2L23,
Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas, Austin.
2. The New Republic began publication on 7 November 1914. Beard, who helped
organize the periodical, was a regular contributor in its early years.
3. In March 1908, while at Harvard, Lippmann and eight fellow undergraduates
founded the Socialist Club. From January to April 1912, he served as administrative
assistant to the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, New York, the Reverend George
Lunn. After this brief and unsatisfying foray into practical politics, Lippmann re-
turned to New York City; he joined the New Republic staff in November 1913. It
was during this period that Beard, a professor of political science at Columbia
University, probably first met Lippmann.
4. Lippmann joined the editorial staff of the New York World, founded by Joseph
Pulitzer, in 1922. Promoted to editorial page director in 1924, he remained with
the World until its demise in 1931. Lippmann's biographer, Ronald Steel, blames
financial mismanagement by Pulitzer's sons, Ralph and Herbert, for the World's
collapse. See Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston:
Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1980; reprint ed., New York: Random House, Vintage
Books, 1981), pp. 269-74. Other observers, including World editorial colleague
James M. Cain, fault Lippmann's progressive languor. See Cain's "The End of the
World," New Freeman, 11 March 1931.
5. Lippmann's first "Today and Tomorrow" column appeared in the New York
Herald Tribune, 8 September 1931.
6. In the fall of 1935, Lippmann began to criticize the "collectivist" nature of the
New Deal. Opposed to FDR's reelection, he endorsed Alf Landon for president in
7. In his autobiography, Henry Adams commented that by the 1890s, "America
contained scores of men worth five millions or upwards, whose lives were no more
worth living than those of their cooks." The Education of Henry Adams (Boston:
Massachusetts Historical Society, 1918; reprint ed., New York: Random House,
Modern Library, 1931), p. 348.
8. "[N]owhere else," Henry James wrote of his birthplace, New York City, "does
pecuniary power so beat its wings in the void, and so look round it for the charity
of some hint as to the possible awkwardness . . . of its motion." The American Scene
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1907; reprint ed., Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1968), p. 159.
9. Edith Wharton, herself wealthy, shared James's distaste for the rich yet doubted
his ability to "depict the American money-maker in action." "Wall Street, and
everything connected with the big business world," she concluded, "remained an
impenetrable mystery to him." A Backward Glance (New York: D. Appleton-Cen-
tury, 1934), p. 176
10. Beard refined Swift's actual judgment. "[T]his . . . Landlord," the satirist re-
marked, "oftimes beshit himself when there was no danger." Jonathan Swift, A Tale
of a Tub, ed. A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith (revised 2d ed., London: Oxford
University Press, 1958), p. 304.