Joseph McCarthy (1908–57) was the controversial U.S. senator who headed investigations into Communist influence in America.
This letter, published previously only in the Winter 2017–18 issue of The Objective Standard, was written eight days after Ayn Rand penned (but possibly did not send) the following note to Sen. McCarthy: “Congratulations on your support of Dr. J. B. Matthews. Please do not permit an expert enemy of Communism to be penalized for fighting Communism.” There is no evidence of any letter from McCarthy to Miss Rand.
36 East 36th Street,
New York City.
July 12th, 1953.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy
c/o Miss Jean Kerr
3032 24th Street, N.E.
Dear Senator McCarthy:
I have been an admirer and supporter of your fight against Communism for many years. I have argued in your defense every time I heard anyone attack you in my presence, and, in spite of the tremendous smear campaign against you, I have always won every argument, because truth, fact and logic were on your side. Now, regretfully, I will not be able to consider myself your supporter nor to defend you any longer. I think that you might want to know my reasons, so I will state them here, because I believe that this, in essence, will be the attitude of all of your sincere followers, though they may not be able to give a coherent expression to their feelings.
I am shocked and stunned by your betrayal of Dr. J.B. Matthews. By dismissing him from his post, you have accomplished what the “Daily Worker” and all the pinks or semi-pinks have not been able to accomplish, namely: you have publicly branded Dr. Matthews as an irresponsible demagogue whose investigations of Communism are not to be trusted.
Yet you know and we all know, by his public record, that Dr. Matthews is the most thorough, reliable and conscientious investigator of Communism known to the public in this country. By your action you have disarmed and discredited him, and you have invalidated all of his past or future activities. From now on, if Dr. Matthews attempts, as a private citizen, to fight against Communism, the whole force of the Leftists will be unleashed against him in a single smear-phrase: “He’s the man whom even Senator McCarthy had to fire as unreliable!”
A few months from now, the details of the issue will be forgotten, Dr. Matthews’ article will be forgotten, the average man will have no way to check on the truth or falsity of the charge—but the above smear will remain and stick, because it is fact. You did dismiss Dr.
Matthews for his attack against Communism. This is the kind of burden you have placed upon one of your best supporters and fighters.
The liberals have been accusing you of “character assassination” and smear tactics. These charges have not damaged you in the eyes of the voters, because these charges were not true. Ironically enough, the Matthews case is the first time that you have committed an act of “character assassination” in the exact sense of the liberals’ charges: you have destroyed a man’s reputation, without inquiry, hearing or regard for the truth or falsity of the attack against him—and you have perpetrated this injustice, not against a Leftist, but against one of your best conservatives, not for the crime of supporting the Communists, but for the crime of attacking them.
You have set a precedent which makes any [exposé] of Communism, by private writers or by your own Committee, impossible in the future. You have accepted the principle that an attack upon individual members of a profession is an attack upon the profession as a whole. On this basis, any pro-Communist whom anyone exposes in the future will be justified in rallying to his support the whole profession to which he belongs. If he is a writer or a plumber, he will be able to convince the public that an attack on him is an attack upon all writers or plumbers. He will lean on the authority, not of Earl Browder or Alger Hiss, but on the authority of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. How, then, do you expect any anti-Communist to be able to continue the fight?
The only question in this whole issue is: Was Dr. Matthews’ article true or false? You have given him no hearing. You have not proved that his article was false or unwarranted. Therefore, the only conclusion one can draw from your action is this: you have dismissed a fighter against Communism because he has attacked persons too powerful to challenge.
What value, meaning, sense or dignity is there left in your fight after this? What honest investigator would care to work for you—once it is made clear that he may investigate only those whom it is safe to expose, but will be broken and betrayed the moment he exposes something truly damaging to the Communists? What confidence can we, the voters, have in any future [exposé] undertaken by your Committee—when it looks as if you are apparently free to fight only by the consent and permission of the very enemy whom you are fighting—when it looks as if you will be permitted to play at small skirmishes, but will be stopped the moment you attack any
truly vulnerable spot? If this is your position, then your fight will not merely be ineffectual, but will actively help the enemy. Your fight will become a screen for the enemy, it will give the country the impression that Communists are being watched and exposed, while, in fact, a few office boys will be exposed, but the tops will be left safely free to function. If this is your position, then your fight will encourage the appeasers, compromisers and “middle-of-the-roaders,” but will destroy any anti-Communist when and if he becomes effective enough to be dangerous to Communism. If this is your position, then your fight will penalize your own soldiers for being too good. What sort of army do you expect to have under these conditions?
Most regretfully, perhaps more sadly than at any other disappointment I have ever suffered in a public figure, I must say that from now on I will not be able to trust any action undertaken by your Committee. No matter whom or what you expose, I will have no way of knowing whether you have really exposed the tops or merely made a deal with the enemy to expose a few inconsequential underlings. I will have no way to defend your actions against those who will doubt or smear you. There is no way to defend a crusader who is a compromiser.
The only solution that I can see for your present position would be for you to reinstate Dr. Matthews in his post, now that you have the power to hire whom you please, and to air the whole issue of his article in full detail, at a public hearing before your own Committee or in any other manner you may find proper, but in a manner which would give it publicity equal to the publicity given to Dr. Matthews’ undeserved disgrace. The only way to serve justice is by facts—by proving publicly that Dr. Matthews’ article was not a smear attack upon anyone. And, above all, you must prove that an anti-Communist will be given at least half the consideration, caution, courtesy and chance to clear his name that is being given to every lousy pro-Communist. This is the least you can do now to redeem the prestige of your own name, your Committee and your cause. Any other course will merely be your political suicide.
I am enclosing a cartoon from today’s New York Times to prove my contention. This is what you have done to one of your most honorable supporters. If this is allowed to stand, you cannot expect to have any supporters any longer.
AR’s later, considered opinion of Sen. McCarthy was less positive: In her 1964 article “‘Extremism,’ or The Art of Smearing” (reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), she discussed how the term “McCarthyism” was used to smear opposition to Communism, but added “I must mention that I am not an admirer of Senator McCarthy, but not for the reasons implied in that smear.” And in “Brothers, You Asked for It!” (The Ayn Rand Letter, April 23, 1973), she wrote “The crusade of Senator Joseph McCarthy was not fighting communism, but communists; it consisted merely in a campaign of party-card hunting.”