Thursday, March 1, 2007

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, l9l7-2007

I was sad to hear today of the passing of a legend, Arthur Meier Schlesinger, at the age of 89 in New York last night.

Arthur Schlesinger had a career full of contrasts. He was a distinguished and prolific historian without any advanced degrees--he had a B.A. in history from Harvard but never went on for a Ph.D. That goes to show you that additional degrees can be overrated. He was the "court historian" for John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, but did not believe his subjects and friends were above legitimate criticism. He was an unabashed liberal who testified to the inadvisability of impeaching Bill Clinton, but also wrote a work decrying political correctness and "balkanization" of American culture among ethnic lines. He was kind of a mystery man. The bottom line was that he wrote courageously, honestly and gracefully. You can READ Schlesinger's works, really READ them.

Of all his works, "Robert F. Kennedy and his Times" is my favorite, because Robert F. Kennedy is such a compelling figure in modern American history(in addition to which, he was nice to me when I met him as a little kid. Everyone who is nice to little kids gets huge credit with me) In the introduction to that book, Schlesinger declares that RFK is someone he liked and admired, giving fair warning to the reader. Yet those expecting hagiography will be disappointed, because Arthur Schlesinger called'em as he saw'em on Kennedy's mistakes, of which the most important was the long-running covert campaign to "get Castro." You don't have to tear your subject to pieces in writing biography, but you don't have to canonize them, either. Arthur Meier struck exactly the right balance in that equation.

Rest in peace.


german said...

sad day indeed. Does this mean that camelot will die now or is that legend secure for all time.

moville said...

I think the legend is secure. It was actually jackie kennedy who started that...she gave an interview to theodore white after the assassination and revealed that she and her husband used to listen to "camelot" after hours, and considered the administration kind of a "round table." i don't think arthur meier was ever that sentimental about things.

No doubt about it though, the public has embraced the camelot myth...