From cafeterias to cocktail parties to the pages of influential journals of opinion, few groups of friends have argued ideas so passionately and so publicly as the writers and critics known as the New York intellectuals. A brilliantly contentious circle of thinkers, they wielded enormous influence in the second half of the twentieth century through their championing of cultural modernism and their critique of Soviet totalitarianism.
Arguing the World is a portrait of four of the leading members of the group in their own words, based on the extensive interviews that formed the basis for Joseph Dorman's acclaimed film of the same name, which New York magazine named in 1999 as the Best New York Documentary. The political essayist Irving Kristol, the literary critic Irving Howe, and the sociologists Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer are brought into sharp focus in a vivid account of one of the century's great intellectual communities.
In this wide-ranging oral history, Dorman documents the lifelong political arguments of these men, from their working-class beginnings to their rise to prominence in the years following World War II, particularly through their contributions to magazines and journals like Partisan Review and Com-mentary. From the advent of the Cold War and McCarthyism, to the rise of the New Left on college campuses in the sixties, to the emergence of neoconservatism in the seventies and eighties, the group's disagreements grew more heated and at times more personal. Driven apart by their responses to these historic events, in later life the four found themselves increasingly at odds with one another. Kristol became influential in America's resurgent conservative movement and Glazer made a name for himself as a forceful critic of liberal social policy, while Bell fought to defend a besieged liberalism. Until his death in 1993, Irving Howe remained an unapologetic voice of the radical left.
Weaving personal reminiscences from these towering figures with those of their friends and foes, Arguing the World opens a new window on the social and intellectual history of twentieth-century America.
Based on independent filmmaker Dorman's 1999 PBS documentary, this gossipy gabfest traces the evolving political beliefs and careers of four influential New York intellectuals--literary critic Irving Howe, political analyst Irving Kristol, and sociologists Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer. All four were anti-Stalinist leftists attending City College in the 1930s and early '40s; all were involved with Partisan Review, the bastion of literary modernism and independent Marxist thought; and all later shed their radical political faith. But here, their paths diverged: while Howe remained a democratic socialist, Bell, Glazer and Kristol turned into what their critics call "neoconservatives," mounting a critique of the counterculture and liberal social policies like affirmative action (which, in yet another turnaround, Glazer now supports). Filled with the voices of the four protagonists, as well as those of Tom Hayden, Alfred Kazin, William Buckley Jr., Diana Trilling, Norman Podhoretz, Saul Bellow, Todd Gitlin and other participants in a vanished New York intellectual scene, the book follows the foursome through controversies over U.S. entry into WWII, Sen. McCarthy's anticommunist witchhunt, the war on poverty and late '60s campus uprisings, when all four, as middle-aged professors, clashed sharply with their radicalized students. Linking oral testimony with informative commentaries, Dorman wistfully champions the foursome as the embodiment of a lost public intellectual life in an age of academic specialization and identity politics. Whether one agrees with Dorman's conclusions or not, his text is a useful and lively addition to the literature about this generation of New York intellectuals.