When we left the flat frozen northern farmland of our Christmas holiday, I also left behind the two books I’d been reading, Metzger’s The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, and Rossiter’s The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness. So, when the first Sunday of January rolled around and we had potluck at the Zachariades home with most of the Cafe Church congregation, I asked to borrow a couple of books. One, a book written for masses purporting to set forth the history of Arthurian legend and fact, and the other, a revisionist tome dealing with the factual basis for the claims and charges of the late United States senator Joe McCarthy.
Yesterday, reading on a break from my own writing and prep-work for today’s interview and testing, I read the following, and found the bit I’ve italicized in bold, infra, particularly applicable to our own time.
As with Chambers and the response to Martin Dies, there was as noted a cultural subtext embedded in the reaction to McCarthy. He was a rough-and-tumble scrapper from the boonies who hadn’t been to Yale or Harvard, spoke in blunt phrases, and taunted the smooth sophisticates in the salons of Georgetown and plush corridors of official power. His targets, often as not, were Ivy League respectable types in the mold of Hiss or Duggan. How could one believe such outlandish charges from such a lout, aimed at his social betters? One couldn’t, and one didn’t.
In which respect, it’s worth recalling that Hiss-Chambers, the original McCarthy fracas, and other security battles this side of the Atlantic erupted in the period 1948 – 50, before the truth about the Philby ring came filtering out from European sources. Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean didn’t abscond to Moscow until May of 1951, well over a year after McCarthy’s initial speeches. Kim Philby would be cleared of “third man” charges in 1955, only to bolt in 1963. Anthony Blunt wasn’t exposed in public as a Soviet agent until the 1970s. Had the truth about the Cambridge spies been general knowledge in 1948 or 1950, it’s likely the Chambers allegations, perhaps even the charges of McCarthy, would have been viewed in a different light. If it could happen in Great Britain, it could just possibly happen here. And, in fact, it did.
The parallels between the British and American cases weren’t coincidental, but sprang from similar intellectual and moral causes. In both countries, there had been a long decline of faith in Western institutions – beginning with religious faith itself, then spreading to other aspects of a culture that appeared in the depression era of the 1930s to be on its deathbed. To many already afflicted with anomie and dark misgivings, the economic/political crisis of the age looked like the coup de grace for traditional views and customs. The supposedly ironclad theories of Marx and Lenin and alleged wonders of Soviet planning were thought to have the answers no longer provided by the older culture.
Aiding the transition was the vast flowering of party front groups that has been noted. In these Potemkin village outfits, Communist ideas and projects were presented in appealing masquerade, and many who weren’t Communist to begin with, or ever, mingled freely with those who were – Marxism and its subspecies made respectable and fairly trendy by the systemic crisis.
Evans, Stanton. Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies. New York: Crown Forum, 2007. P. 64, italics mine.