US-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > US-OBITS > 2007-03 > 1173013399
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [US-OBITS] SCHLESINGER: Arthur Meier Schlesinger 28/2/2007
Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2007 05:03:19 -0800
Arthur Schlesinger Jr
Last Updated: 2:29am GMT 02/03/2007
Arthur Schlesinger Jr, who died on Wednesday night aged 89, was a liberal
historian and intellectual-in-residence in the administration of John F
Kennedy; along with JK Galbraith, he remained until the end of his life a
scourge of conservative Republicanism and a spry and dapper advocate of the
Great Society agenda.
Schlesinger's high-minded brand of liberalism was in the blood. His father,
also Arthur Schlesinger (1888-1965), was a Harvard historian who, with his
mother, was always involved in progressive social causes. Schlesinger Jr
believed strongly in "affirmative government" - big federal government
programmes rather than the free market - as the key to solving America's
problems and the world's, and played an important part in constructing many
of the programmes that became central to the Democratic party platform.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger was born at Columbus, Ohio, on October 15 1917 and
educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard, where he read History. He
achieved early success with the publication of his Harvard honours thesis,
Orestes A Brownson: A Pilgrim's Progress (1939), a biography of a
19th-century American Catholic intellectual which won him fellowships to
both Harvard and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he spent a year before the
During the war Schlesinger served first in the Office of War Information and
then in Europe in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the
CIA. In 1946 he came to Harvard as an associate professor of History,
becoming a full professor in 1954.
His Age of Jackson (1945), which sought to trace the roots of modern
liberalism and social and political egalitarianism back to the America of
the 1830s and 1840s, won him the Pulitzer Prize. The study has not aged
well, as it strongly reflected Schlesinger's prejudices and the political
debate of the time at which it was written; but it helped to refocus
American history away from themes of frontier and nationalism and is still
regarded as a classic.
Schlesinger's book The Vital Center (1949) set out his political credo,
making a case for the New Deal policies of FD Roosevelt while condemning
both unregulated capitalism and fellow liberals who advocated coexistence
with Communism. He enlarged on these themes in The Age of Roosevelt,
published in three volumes between 1957 and 1960, a gripping and highly
sympathetic account of the New Deal period in American history.
In 1947 he was one of the co-founders, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Galbraith and
others, of the liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action. The
following year he served as special assistant to Averell Harriman in Paris,
and was part of Adlai Stevenson's campaign team during his two races for the
presidency against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.
Though he had been friends with John F Kennedy since the 1940s, it was not
JFK's idea to invite Schlesinger to serve in the White House, but Robert
Kennedy's. This was somewhat surprising because, during the early 1950s, he
had fallen out with Bobby in a public exchange of letters in the New York
Times debating the merits of the Yalta agreement. Schlesinger recalled JFK
turning to him in 1961 and saying, "Bobby tells me you're going to come down
and work in the White House." Though it was the first he'd heard of it,
Schlesinger replied: "Yes. I'm thoroughly looking forward to it."
During the election campaign Kennedy had put Latin America high on his
agenda, with the aim of counteracting the growing influence of Castro's Cuba
among the region's impoverished campesinos, and he appointed Schlesinger
special assistant on Latin American affairs. Schlesinger advised on the
setting up of a Social Progress Trust Fund to foster national planning to
implement agrarian reforms. However, most of the goodwill created by this
initiative was squandered by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, in which a group of
anti-Castro Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA, attempted an invasion of Cuba.
Schlesinger had opposed the venture, though he put his hand to an official
paper justifying the invasion and accepted the task of speaking for the
provisional government of Cuba, which the CIA had brought to a small hut in
the Everglades to ship to Cuba after the invading brigade established its
Matters descended into farce when Schlesinger held a press conference. As
the cameras rolled, television viewers could hear the members of the
would-be government inside the hut shouting in Spanish: "Let us out. Let us
out." Schlesinger, embarrassed, nevertheless continued to speak for the
members of the supposedly legitimate government, who had apparently been
locked inside the hut because the CIA feared what they might say about
Kennedy "betraying the invasion".
Later, when reminded that Schlesinger had been opposed to the enterprise,
Kennedy remarked: "Oh, sure, Arthur wrote me a memorandum that will look
pretty good when he gets around to writing his book on my administration."
Then he added: "And I have a title for his book - Kennedy: The Only Years."
In fact, when it came to be published in 1965, it was entitled A Thousand
Days, and won Schlesinger a second Pulitzer. Schlesinger left government
service soon after Kennedy's assassination. He was disillusioned by Lyndon
Johnson and criticized his Vietnam policies in The Bitter Heritage: Vietnam
and American Democracy, 1941-1966 (1967). In 1968 he supported Robert
Kennedy's bid for the White House, which ended in a second Kennedy shooting.
Schlesinger's next book, The Crisis of Confidence: Ideas, Power and Violence
in America (1969), was markedly pessimistic.
In 1966 Schlesinger was appointed Albert Schweitzer Professor in the
Humanities at the graduate school of the City University of New York, where
he remained until his retirement in 1996. He went on to write many more
books, including a biography of Robert Kennedy (1977), which won a National
Book Award in 1979, and the first volume of his own autobiography, published
In 1992 he gave a respite to his usual enemy - the Republican Party - and in
The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society he lashed
out at those who, as he saw it, had hijacked liberal principles by promoting
the dogma of multiculturalism. In a trenchant analysis he attacked the new
creed of cultural relativism that was leading to demands from America's
ethnic minorities for ethnic separatism: "If the Ku Klux Klan wanted to
devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping
and disabling black Americans," he wrote, "it would not be likely to come up
with anything more diabolically effective than Afrocentrism."
In the 21st century Schlesinger was a formidable critic of the Bush
administration's involvement in Iraq: "The global wave of sympathy that
engulfed the United States after 9/11 has given way to a global wave of
hatred of American arrogance and militarism," he wrote in 2003. "The Bush
Doctrine converts us into the world's judge, jury and executioner - a
self-appointed status that, however benign our motives, is bound to corrupt
Arthur Schlesinger served as president, then chancellor, of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters (1981-87) and as president of the Society of
American Historians (1989-92).
In 1940 he married Marian Cannon, with whom he had two sons and two
daughters. The marriage was later dissolved, and in 1971 he married,
secondly, Alexandra Emmet, with whom he had two children.
|[US-OBITS] SCHLESINGER: Arthur Meier Schlesinger 28/2/2007 by "Peter McCrae" <>|