They all seem to have appeared on the right lately. Not that long ago we had them on the left as well. Actually I'm inclined to ask where the left has gone, but that is a circular thing, isn't it? That is, what used to be radical left is gone. What used to be left is also just about gone. I expect a bunch of comments pointing out that we have a left that is alive and well. The problem with such claims is that when we had a radical left it would have been more than clear that these are really moderates. So if there is no real radical left why should I expect there to be radical left journalists? Which is chicken and which is egg? My inspiration for such babble is that I have started a fascinating book: American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone by D. D. Guttenplan. There are things happening in this country right now that are very radical. They scare me. Read on below and I'll say more about Stone and about the absence of a voice like his and what it means for all of us.
I grew up on I. F. Stone and he shaped a great deal of what I am. Stone lived from 1907 to 1989. I was born in 1936 so we overlap enough to make him a significant part of my life. I didn't discover him until the 1950s but before that I knew nothing about politics other than the love my parents had for FDR.
Stone has no counterpart in American history that I am aware of. Here is a guy who spoke out against Joe McCarthy as if it was not suicidal to do so. In fact it did cost him but he recovered. The moral price those who shut up or even turned quisling paid was far, far greater. And that brings us to today's journalists. What is it they are protecting? I really do not understand.
Here's what Stone's biographer wrote about the effect of the trial of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The history of this trial should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand how we got here.
it seems clear that Feinstein (his original name) returned from New England a changed man. Before he had been both idealist and cynic, no more serious about politics than he'd been about his weekend jaunts to Atlantic City. Passionate, yes, but not committed. Afterward, he ---- and a whole generation of young idealists --- knew that American political dissent could have fatal consequences. More than that, he knew something a subsequent generation of young radicals would have to learn for themselves in Kent, Ohio and Jackson, Mississippi: that the establishment was prepared to murder to preserve its hold on power.
I have read and reread that passage. It seems to hold a key to a deep truth I learned in my own way. I don't think I was ever really a radical until that realization came to me.
I have written a lot here challenging those who believe we can achieve real change through electoral politics. I participate often with a zeal that goes far beyond what a doubter should be able to muster up. I think it is because this charade is all we have left. The left is gone. By that I mean the people who believed in their hearts and souls that the power structure of this country consists of people who will control us if they have to murder us to do it.
I used to think about that in the '60s and '70s as a kind of sorting device to evaluate the effectiveness of political acts. There were a spectrum of them back then. The idea was that if the establishment fought you with words you were safe to them. If they came to hurt you that meant you were starting to have effect.
So that brings us around the circle. Is the radicalism of the right a threat to the establishment? Or , as often in the past, are they the cannon fodder being used to pave the way for something more? I see no sign that they bother any one in power. The present scene is frightening to me. More frightening than the threat of establishment retaliation.
Who knows more than this mystical establishment how bad the prognosis really is for this country? Who needs to have thugs ready in case the downtrodden should eventually rise up as they always do when things get bad enough?
The rantings of an old man right? Maybe so. I have been at this too long and have seen too much to dismiss my unease that way. You may, but it may be at your peril. There is no I. F. Stone out there to sound the warning this time. The other side owns every last one of them this time. The theater they put on almost makes it seem otherwise but don't be fooled. The whole thing is being produced and directed for your benefit. That's right yours. The so called left. You are totally safe and will never have to fear harm. Just go on with the pretense of a struggle. It is good theatre.