[Posted 8:06 AM by Roger Kimball]
Let the bouquets begin. The playwright Arthur Miller died yesterday at 89. An icon of the left-liberal establishment for decades, Miller has already been showered with a diabetic’s nightmare of saccharine eulogies from . . . well, from just about everywhere. I won’t intrude into this love-fest except to note that a measure of scepticism about Mr. Miller’s halo of sanctity is in order. In September 2000, we published a dissenting note about Miller in The New Criterion.
We Now KnowRead the whole thing here.
Some myths die hard. One of the most recalcitrant in recent times has been the myth of McCarthyismthe myth that America in the late 1940s and early 1950s was in the grip of a fearsome, paranoid witch-hunt against supposed Communists and other alleged traitors. According to this myth, the assault was fearsome because it blighted thousands of careers and lives, and it was paranoid because it was essentially groundless. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee ranted on about Communist spies, but really, the myth of McCarthyism maintains, there were no spies to speak of, only liberals like well, like Alger Hiss.
You might think that by now liberals would have given up on this one. After all, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent opening of many Soviet archives, there is indisputable evidencea mountain of itfor what had long been alleged by cold warriors. The liberal line had always been that the American Communist Party was basically an expression of home-grown radical sentiment; in fact, it had from the beginning been a tool of Moscow; moreover, many of the radical martyrs of the period were hard-core Stalinists and KGB operatives. This is not speculation: it is hard and fast historical fact. As the historian John Gaddis put it in the title of his 1997 history of the Cold War: We Now Know.
Or so we would have thought. But what is evidence in the face of self-righteous political animus? Not much, if Arthur Millers breathtaking expostulation about the origins of his play The Crucible is any guide. Entitled Are You Now or Were You Ever ?, Mr. Millers latest exercise in self-congratulation appeared init is almost too good to be true, but is is trueThe Guardian, the most predictable left-wing quality paper in London. There had, of course, long been speculation that the activities of Sen. McCarthy and HUAC had been the chief inspiration for The Crucible; no one, we think, will accuse Mr. Miller of having been overly subtle in his deployment of symbolism. But he has now for the first time cleared up any remaining doubts: It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. I refer to the anti-communist rage that threatened to reach hysterical proportions and sometimes did.
Mr. Miller has always been a reliable source of radical-chic clichés and he does not disappoint in this new recollection. We can well believe him when he remarks that Practically everyone I knew stood within the conventions of the political left of centre; one or two were Communist party members, some were fellow-travellers, and most had had a brush with Marxist ideas or organisations. But is it naïveté or something else when he goes on to declare that I have never been able to believe in the reality of these people being actual or putative traitors any more than I could be, yet others like them were being fired from teaching or jobs in government or large corporations. Mr. Miller is especially incredulous that any of his fellow artists could have engaged in traitorous activities: The unwelcome truth denied by the right was that the Hollywood writers accused of subversion were not a menace to the country, or even bearers of meaningful change. They wrote not propaganda but entertainment, some of it of a mildly liberal cast, but most of it mindless, or when it was political, as with Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, entirely and exuberantly un-Marxist.
Really? Mr. Miller concludes his piece by speaking of the black singer Paul Robeson, whose declaration of faith in socialism as a cure for racism, he says, was a rocket that lit up the sky. Robeson is widely considered a martyr of HUAC. In fact, he was a doctrinaire Stalinist who believed that only in the Soviet Union were blacks really free. At the World Peace Congress in 1949, Robeson publicly declared that American blacks would not fight for the American flag, least of all against Moscow: It is unthinkable, he said, that his race would go to war on behalf of those who oppressed us for generations. Russia he described as a country which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind. In the same year, like many other artists under Stalinist discipline, he voluntarily gave up acting and singing, explaining that I have no time in the political struggle of today to entertain people. Robeson received the Stalin Prize in 1953, the year of the dictators death, and he signed a eulogy that contained the benediction Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.