March 13, 1948
Thank you very, very much for telling me about Don Levine’s attitude. It is not a matter of repeating personal remarks, since the remark was not personal, but philosophical. I think it was quite proper for you to tell me.
Yes, I intended to help him raise money for research for the articles I told you about. But I was not too certain, in my own mind, as to whether I should do it, because our so-called conservatives here in town are in a state of something like panic, and I felt a strong reluctance to undertake any action with them.
I am not too surprised to hear that Don Levine doesn’t believe in principles. I had only one philosophical discussion with him in New York, about the general policy and future of his magazine. I believe I mentioned it to you at the time. It was then my impression that he was quite confused philosophically and that he did not think of politics in fundamental terms, as you and I do. But what impressed me in his favor was the fact that he conducted the argument honestly, that is, he did not evade issues and whenever I made a point clear to him, he agreed with it. But, I suppose, if a person does not understand the nature and function of principles, then no argument will take, and one can never convince him of anything since he starts from the premise that there can be no such thing as conviction.
I can’t say that I even resent his attitude. If that is the extent of his thinking, he has to fight whatever he thinks is his battle in his own way. I can only say that that is not my way.
The strange part of it all is that what he approached me about in New York was that he felt his magazine needed
a new policy in the sense that it had to present abstract principles. It was not I, but he who told me that merely exposing factual records of Communist plottings is not enough, and that his magazine also had to have a positive side, that is, a philosophical or intellectual one. I think I mentioned to you that he wanted me to do a regular column for him devoted to articles on the subject of individualism. I told him that the subject could not be treated that way. I thought then that he did not quite understand the proper approach to philosophical issues. But since the request was his own, and he had grasped the need for such a policy, I thought that he might be able to adopt the proper course for his magazine. What do you suppose prompted his request, if he doesn’t believe in principles?
Of course, the alleged idea that one can be “practical” without principles stumps me completely. I, too, am simply unable to understand what it is that people think they mean when they say it.
The only explanation I see is the “malevolent universe” idea. This case interests me, in a sort of morbid way, because it does seem to bear out rather obviously what Albert and I had concluded on the subject. People nowadays think that the universe is malevolent, that reality is evil, that by the essential nature of the world, man is doomed to suffering and frustration; and therefore, if any fundamental principles could be discovered in objective reality, it would have to be the principles of evil. So these people prefer to avoid discovering such principles, and they think that to be practical one has to cheat reality in some way, that one can hope to survive only by fooling the laws of the universe (though how they expect to do that I can’t imagine), since their natural fate should really be horror and destruction. Isn’t that, in effect, what Levine believes, if he says that any tolerable periods of history were only a lucky accident? Would you say that that is the explanation?
Incidentally, I would like to know what Levine meant when he said that he is afraid of people with principles. Afraid of what? Did he elaborate on it, and in what context did he say it?
Of course, his plan about splitting government up into numerous agencies that would oppose one another, is one of the goofiest things I have ever heard. I know I don’t have to point this out to you, but there is just one particular example which I can’t resist.
The I.C.C. ordered the railroads to adopt a certain policy and charge certain rates, during the war, and all the railroads had to obey—and right now the Department of Justice is suing the railroads over this same policy and rates as constituting an improper monopoly agreement or something. Is that Levine’s idea of the solution to our troubles? I wish, if you ever felt like it, that you would throw this at him and ask him to answer it. But hell, I suppose I am wrong even in being curious about what he would answer. I still believe that a person should be crucially concerned about not preaching logical contradictions, but I have certainly had plenty of evidence that that does not seem to bother anybody the least bit. Well, the world shows the results of that, too.
If you want an example of the same sort of thing, Albert told me about an encounter he had with a group of writers who are supposedly conservatives, and who are trying, so they think, to fight the influence of Communists in the Screen Writers’ Guild. They were discussing what action to take in a situation where they themselves had played right into the Communists’ hands. Albert tried to point out what they should do by explaining to them the principles involved. They listened for a while rather impatiently, then one of them said, “Yes, yes, we all know about principles, that’s all well and good, but now let’s get down to fundamentals.” (!) (I’m not sure you’ll understand or believe that he meant, “let’s talk business.”)
I am not surprised that another Congressman has discovered “The God of the Machine.” I think it is wonderful that he did. You yourself told me that the ideas of your book would take a long time to get to people—and if they are reaching a few people now, I am glad to think that there is some intelligence left in the world. But, oh God! how slow it is!
You know, it’s strange, but I am getting pessimistic about the state of the world for the first time, after all these years. While the general trend of public opinion is going our way more obviously than ever before, and while there are a few indications of people doing some thinking in the right direction, I suddenly find myself wondering whether things are hopeless. By that I mean that I am not certain, as I was before, that we will see an intellectual renaissance on a large scale in our lifetime, or see the right ideas being applied in practice, in politics. I always thought that we would see it, but now I am doubting it.
The reason is that the scale of horror in Europe has reached such a blatant state that I am beginning to think there can be no intellectual redemption for the whole present generation of people who permit this to go on. There is now no room to plead ignorance or confusion. If people still talk about “the middle of the road,” they are much worse than cowards; they are truly and totally corrupt.
If you have the time and inclination, would you tell me what you think of this? You said (in your first letter of this week) that there are a lot of things you would like to talk about in regard to the present state of the world, but it’s almost impossible to put it into a letter. If you can do it, I’d like to hear your ideas on it, because I do feel pretty sick about the situation. I think the Czechoslovakian[*] and Finnish issues were the straw for this camel’s back.
I can’t think of anything cheerful at the moment, except for personal matters. My book is going well, the flowers and the grounds here are wonderful right now, this is the only beautiful time of the year in California. You said, “Love to all, wish I were there.” Oh God, how I wish you were!
Love from both of us,
*Though popular support for communism in post-WWII Czechoslovakia was outweighed by opposition to it, the Czechoslovak Communist Party formed the largest group in parliament, and on February 25, 1948, forced the country’s non-communist president Benes to accept a communist-dominated cabinet and the resignation of the non-communist ministers. Known as the Czechoslovak coup d’état, the result left Czechoslovakia under communism for four decades.