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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
The Disuniting of America:  Reflections on a Multicultural Society
ISBN: 0393045803
The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society
In 1991, when the end of the Cold War released long repressed ethnic, racial, and religious antagonisms, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a penetrating book that raised the discussion of multiculturalism in American society to a new level. This challenging work soon became a popular bestseller and an integral part of college courses across the country. "A brilliant book," Vann Woodward called it. "We owe Arthur Schlesinger a great debt of gratitude."

Since then, ethnic strife has ravaged the globe, from Europe, Asia, and Africa, to Bosnia and Brooklyn. In the The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, Revised and Enlarged Edition (W.W. Norton) Schlesinger offers a cogent look at the crises of nationhood in America and around the world. A new epilogue assesses the impact both of radical multiculturalism and radical monoculturalism on the Bill of rights. The new edition concludes with "Schlesinger's Syllabus," an annotated reading list of baker's dozen of writings that illuminate crucial aspects of the American experience. Written with Schlesinger's usual clarity and verve, the book brings a noted historian's wisdom and perspective to bear on America's vehement 'culture wars.'

Schlesinger addresses the questions: What holds a nation together? And what does it mean to be an American? Describing the emerging cult of ethnicity, Schlesinger praises its healthy effect on a nation long shamed by a history of prejudice and bigotry. But he warns against the campaign of multicultural ideologues to divide the nation into separate and indelible ethnic and racial communities. From the start, he observes, the United States has been a multicultural nation, rich in its diversity but held together by a shared commitment to the democratic process and by the freedom of intermarriage. It was this national talent for assimilation that impressed foreign visitors like Alexis de Tocqueville and James Bryce, and it is this historic goal that Schlesinger champions as the best hope for the future. Schlesinger analyzes what he sees as ominous consequences of identity politics: the magnification of differences, ethnic cheerleading, Afrocentric curricula, bilingualism, speech codes, censorship. Attacks on the First Amendment, he contends, threaten the vitality of intellectual freedom and, ultimately, the future of the very groups the censors ostensibly seek to protect. His critiques are not limited to the left. As a former target of McCarthyism, he understands that the radical right is even more willing than the radical left to restrict and subvert the Bill of Rights.

The author does not minimize the injustices and contradictions concealed by the 'melting pot' dream. THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA is both erudite and personal, trenchant in argument, balanced in judgment. It is a book that will no doubt anger some readers, but it will surely make all of them think again. The winner of Pulitzer Prizes for history and for biography, an authoritative voice of American liberalism, special assistant to President Kennedy, adviser to Adlai Stevenson, Schlesinger is uniquely positioned to bring bold answers and healing wisdom to this passionate debate over who we are and what we should become.
—from the publisher's website

The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society
Program Air Date: May 10, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dr. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., author of "The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society," this is the third time this book's come out. How come?
MR. ARTHUR SCHLESINGER Jr., AUTHOR, "THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA:" It is the third time. It was originally published--Whittle publishers, now extinct, did it in a kind of special edition which was distributed free. And then W.W. Norton took it up, republished it in a trade edition. And time has passed, and the time has come to make some new points and update the rest, and hence the third version.
LAMB: What's new in this one?
MR. SCHLESINGER: What's new in this one? Well, partly an updating of--of matters, partly some new issues have--have emerged, which I can tell you about, and partly because the publisher thought it'd be a good idea to have what he calls `the Schlesinger syllabus' at the end, a baker's dozen of books which all Americans ought to read to understand the country in which they live.
LAMB: Let's talk about that. A baker's dozen--the dozen books that you've selected; which d--which one of the--all those is the most important?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, it's hard to s--say which is the most important; it's like s--asking which is--which is the most important of your children, I suppose. But I'm--if pressed, one might argue that the most perceptive book written about America is still Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." It's an extraordinary thing that--of course, C-SPAN has al--done fine work in reminding people of sig--Tocqueville's significant--significance. The fact that a book written 150 years ago should still illuminate the American character and the American experience is very remarkable.
LAMB: You have Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, James Bryce, William James, Henry Adams. Henry Adams pops up in a lot of the readings that I've done for this show as--"The Education of Henry Adams" as--as being one of the most important books ever written. Why is it?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, it's a brilliant book. I mean, he's a brilliant historian, because he had a g--w--some extraordinary insights. One of the--his insights was the in--increase in the velocity of history, the rate of change. He talked about--talks in, "The Education" about the law of acceleration. And we can see this--I mean, the movement every--surrounds us all the time. I think He--Henry Adams the--was born just as we were reaching the end of one great structural change in our society, the shift from a farm-based to a factory-based economy. He saw that.

But he anticipated, not in precise terms but in the general sense, this shift we are now experiencing, which is a shift from a factory-based economy to a computer-based economy. He did not talk--know about the computer, but he knew that something--the law of acceleration was hurtling us into a future which--where things would be very different.
LAMB: One of your baker's dozen is Gunnar Myrdal's "An American Dilemma," 1944, and you write a lot about that in the book itself. How did you marry the two, putting it on your list and also referring to it in the book itself?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, Myrdal's book--Myrdal was a Swedish economist who was brought to the U--US to study the--the race problem. The--the idea of--a foundation brought him; the idea was that he could bring a certain detachment and have a certain perspective which might be useful for Americans. And it's an extraordinary book in the--both in the--the depiction of conditions half a century ago. And if you read th--"An American Dilemma," you cannot--it's hard to deny that great changes, great improvements have taken place. We haven't gone far enough, but there have been--there's extraordinary changes in American life.

But he also proposed an argument as to how these changes might be--come about. And he identified what he called the American creed, and he felt that the American creed put certain ideals in the minds of Americans, ideals which were imperfectly fulfilled, often betrayed, by white America, but that in the longer run, th--this struggle for America's soul would result in an--in an increasing fulfillment of those ideals, and that those ide--and also the American creed provided means by which those who were excluded from the full benefits of American citizenship, the--provided means by which they could carry out a--a legal and constitutional fight for their rights. It's a remarkable book.
LAMB: You say in--in this book that the US has worked so far. What'd you mean by that?
MR. SCHLESINGER: We have held together, more or less, except, of course, for the Civil War. And what I meant by that was that we are in a stage with the end of the Cold War of a--where ancient tribal antagonisms, ethnic antag--rivalries, and so on, are bursting--which had been repressed by the Cold War, are beginning to burst out. One nation after another is being torn apart by this. I mean, the--the--in the murderous form in Yugoslavia where we have seen the--the--how--what c--r--horrors religious and national rivalries can generate. Even in a nation as tranquil and peaceful as Canada, Canada is on the verge of bust-up because of different linguistic and ethnic sc--traditions.

I think that all this suggests that--that you can push--the w--suggests that we ought to pay more attention to what holds the nation together. We're in a--living in a time of the breaking of nations for ethnic, tribal, religious reasons. I think one reason why I wanted to revise the book, "The Disuniting of America," was I think we're more s--sensitive now to the need to find things that hold us together then we were when the book first came out. I think the Yugoslav experience has reminded Americans that if you press ethnic r--rivalries too far, if you dec--d--d--decide that people belong irrevocably to one or another ethnic community, ethnic tribe, that that may be the road to trouble, and that there is some virtue in the older idea of assimilation and integration. That is, we are, after all, Americans. The--the melting pot has worked unevenly; it's worked imperfectly, but it's--it has pro--produced the ideal of one people.
LAMB: The first time this book came out was 1991, then it was redone in 1992, and now in 1998. And you say in the book that history is a weapon. What do you mean by that?
MR. SCHLESINGER: History is a weapon. History--i--ideally str--str--strives for objectivity above the battle and so on. But historians, like everyone else, are prisoners of their own experience and their own times, and very active. S--the selection of facts from the past involves an interpretation, a sense of priorities, a sense of values as to what--what matters. S--history can be a very strong weapon for people who wish to--to construct a certain movement in a certain direction. Hi--history, for example, has been the victim of nationalism, often, y--what's happening in Yugoslavia, what's happening in Ireland.

George Mitchell, our--who did the superb job in bringing about the peace settlement in Ireland, used to say that--he--he once said to me, `You--you historians are worried about the fact that, you know, young Americans don't seem to know much of their history.' And I said, `Yes, and we are baffled. Everyone said, `Well, wha--people don't know when the Civil War took place and so on.' He said, `The trouble with Ireland is that they know too much of their own history and they try to re-enact it.' And, of course, they t--they're filled with resentments over grievances that took place half a century ago, a century ago, 300 years ago, back to Drogheda and Cromwell, so that history can be a weapon in the sense of vindication of people's desire to get back at somebody else or to move in one d--direction or another. I think that one show--sees us in the construction these days of curricula, where is--the feeling is that people ought to be made--they ought to become proud of their ancestors. And so you get into a kind of ethnic cheerleading, which I think is at the expense of--of--of realistic history.
LAMB: You know, when we sat down here, I asked you how to pronounce your name correctly. Why don't you do it one more time?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I say Schlesinger (pronounced shlay-zing-ur). That's the German pronunciation. But it's a matter of fielder's choice. I can't even get my wife to pronounce it correctly.
LAMB: But you point out in--in--you talk about your father a couple times in this book...
LAMB: ...and you mention Xenia, Ohio. We--where were you born?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I was born in Columbus, Ohio. My father was born in Xenia, and my father was a f--more eminent historian than his son. He was a great leader in the cause of social history half a century ago--the history of immigration and the history of women. He was mu--he was one of the pioneers in the enlargement of history in what would be now called the multicultural direction.
LAMB: What year did he die?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He died in 1965.
LAMB: And what did his father do?
MR. SCHLESINGER: His father was a--came to this country just before the Civil War as a--as a young boy--he had a brother over here--and moved to--moved out to Xenia, Ohio.
LAMB: Where'd he come from?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He came from Germany.
LAMB: Whereabouts in Germany?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Prussia. He was a great admirer of--he was an ardent Democrat and a great admirer of Grover Cleveland. And when my father was born in 1888 and Cleveland was coming up for re-election, he wanted to name this new baby Grover Cleveland Schlesinger. Fortunately, my grandmother and my father's two older sisters intervened and saved my father from that fate, and if not, I might be--well be Grover C. Schlesinger Jr. today.
LAMB: Well, why Xenia, Ohio? What was the--what was the draw there?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Xenia was a s--was a s--small--pleasant, small town. It was in b--kind of a local c-c--it's a county seat in Greene County in Ohio, and seemed a thriving place, used to have an opera house, a th--theater and so on. And my--my grand--grandfather liked it very much. He was a very strong supporter of education, particularly of the public library. They had the Carnegie library in Xenia.
LAMB: What'd he do for a living?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He was an insurance agent.
LAMB: And then how did your father become a historian?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He went to--my father went to Ohio State and wanted to be a newspaper man, because he'd been in--when he was high school, a local--the Xenia correspondent for a Cincinnati paper. But he did so well in--in--at Ohio State that his professors said that he should d--go on to graduate work at Columbia. And he got a fellowship at Columbia, came on to New York and fell under the influence of James Harvey Robinson and Charles A. Beard and went on to become a historian.
LAMB: And then how long did you spend in Columbus, Ohio?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I left Columbus, Ohio, at about the age of one, and so my memories are not vivid. My father l--left o--Ohio State to go--go to the University of Iowa, where he became head of the history department. And then s--a--a few years later, when I was about six years old, Samuel Eliot Morison at Harvard became Harmsworth professor at o--at Oxford for a year, and he w--he r--he'd met my father and he recommended that my father be brought to Cambridge to--as a visiting professor to take his place for that year. And so my father came to Cambridge, and after a year, they offered him a--a permanent job, too. So I--from the age of six or seven, I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
LAMB: And where did you go to school?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I went to public schools and I went to Phillips Exeter Academy, I went to Harvard. I spent a year at Cambridge University.
LAMB: And you've got a PhD in...
MR. SCHLESINGER: I don't have a PhD.
LAMB: You do not.
MR. SCHLESINGER: I d--the--I--after I spent the year of thir--I graduated from college in 1938; spent the year of '38 and '39 at Cambridge, strange twilight year between Munich and the war. I then came back, joined something called the Society of Fellows at Harvard, which was established by a former president, A. Lawrence Lowell, who didn't--was not enthusiastic about the PhD system, so this was for people who could do what they wanted to do for a term of three years, so long as they didn't work for a PhD. Well, by the time the--my three years was up, the--we were at war and I w--got involved in that. By the time I got back from overseas in 1945, I'd already wr--written a couple of books and seemed no point in getting a PhD.
LAMB: You've written how many books?
LAMB: There's listed out here 14.
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, it may--may be.
LAMB: Sometimes they don't list all of them.
LAMB: Of all those books, which one sold the most?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I have no idea. I honestly don't know. But probably...
LAMB: What about "1,000 Days of John F. Kennedy in the White House"?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Probably that did.
LAMB: What year did you write that?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I wrote that in 1965.
LAMB: And before that, you were doing what? Before you wrote that book, right--you know, how much time did you spend with the Kennedy administration?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I can't--I joined the Kennedy administration sh--very soon after the administration began, and I resigned the day after Dallas because I felt the president--the new president, Lyndon Johnson, ought to be s--have his own people, people with whom he could work and whom he trusted. And Johnson s--persuaded me to stay for the transition, so I stayed for a few more weeks, and then re--resigned and wrote "1,000 Days."
LAMB: When you look back on that administration and you look back on the book that you wrote, have you changed your mind about anything that you saw when you were in there with the--the last 30 years of time between it?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I wrote a second book called, "Robert Kennedy & His Times," where--with--that came out a dozen years after "1,000 Days," by which time more information was available. And the--the perspectives had changed, and so on, so that I think my mature ju--judgment of the Kennedy administration comes in the--in the second book.
LAMB: What's the biggest legacy as far as you're concerned?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think the biggest legacy--I mean, there are s--some specific legacies, such as the Test Ban Treaty, for example, and the movement toward relaxation of tensions in 1963, the civil rights fight, which began in 1963, and the space ex--beginnings of the exploration of space, and so on. But I think the mo--most general sense was that what Kennedy tried to--wanted to do is to tap the latent idealism of the American people, as FDR had done, when h--when Jack Kennedy and I were young, and as Wilson had done when Jack Kennedy and I were born. He believed strongly that th--this--tha--that--we were capable of--of intelligence, reason and generosity in national policy.
LAMB: Would--were you older or younger than Jack Kennedy?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He was born in May 1917 and I was born in October.
LAMB: Where did you meet him?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I'd gone to--to college--a college classmate was his older brother Joe Kennedy, who was killed in the war. I knew Joe Kennedy. I was aware--Jack Kennedy was a couple of years later because he was--had to take a year off because of sickness. He was the class of 1940. I was aware of him, but I didn--did not know him till after the war, when he became congressman from the district in which I lived and senator from the state in which I lived. So we got to know each other in the late '40s and the 1950s.
LAMB: What impact did the assassination have on you personally?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I couldn't--I mean, the--the mixture of grief, horror and incredulity. It was a shattering time, shattering thing to have happened to a--a--a brilliant, capable man who w--was robbed of the chance of fulfillment of his life and of his hopes, and he wanted it--sort--sort of introduced a whole decade of, it seemed--it seemed to one, of spreading violence in one sort or another, culminating, of course, in the 1968 assassinations of Martin King and Robert Kennedy. One had a s--almost a c--feeling that the s--whole social fabric was unraveling in that strange decade.
LAMB: What do you think of the current discussion which says that if the media had applied the kind of microscope it did--or they do to the current president on his personal life, if it had done that to Jack Kennedy, that it would've been a whole different atmosphere?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I doubt that because, I mean, they--the current theory seems to be that--that everyone in Washington knew about a parade of bimbos through the White House and that they covered up because they liked Kennedy or because the rules deflected that kind of inve--inquiry. That--you read Ben Bradlee's book. Ben Bradlee was a--Jack Kennedy's closest friend in the press, was head of the Newsweek bureau, he was at the nerve center of news gathering there. Ben Bradlee says--writes that he did not know about these things. I wa--certainly was not aware of any kind of dif--b--waywardness which would interfere with the conduct of public business.
LAMB: What do you think...
MR. SCHLESINGER: So I think it was much exaggerated.
LAMB: What do you think of this whole issue as a historical, you know, discussion? I mean, is this--is this of any value at all?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think if you're wri--writing personal biographies of presidents, it's--it's of interest. I don't think it's a matter of--of s--public concern. The--I think the--you know, the--is--we're--I wr--wri--I think that the American people have--have r--reacted with a sc--certain and hardly surprising maturity to this question with--with regard to President Clinton. I don't think people deplore what is the alle--the--I don't think they admire what is alleged about his conduct, but they do think it's his own business. Th--they separate it--it's a separate question from his success for--as a president.

I think the--the adultery test--once I--the year th--Gary Hart was forced out of the presidential contest in eight--18--1988, the Robert Kennedy book award that year was divided between David Garrow's biography of Martin Luther King and a book by Elizabeth Becker about Cambodia. I was chatting with the two authors at the--on this occasion, and we--we were talking about Gary Hart and it emerged that Martin Luther King, of course, was a man of certain sexual waywardness in his private life, yet he was a great moral leader and made a great difference to this country. Pol Pot of Cambodia was apparently a man of strict--strict, a faithful husband, a man who deeply believed in family values. All he did was to murder a million of his countrymen. I think there are limits to the adultery test, as a t--t--as a standard to apply to s--to statesmen.
LAMB: What did you do in your work after the White House? Where did you go back to when you went back to being an historian?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I--after the White House, I spent some months at the Institute of--of Advanced Study at Princeton and then was asked to be--a choice of r--I decided not to go back to Harvard.
LAMB: How long had you been at Harvard?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I had been there f--I had lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for 40 years, and as Thoreau said when he left Walden, he said, `I greatly enjoyed my time at Walden, but I decided that I had other lives to live.' And so I was attracted by an--an offer of the Schweitzer professorship at--in the humanities at the City University of New York. So I came and did that.
LAMB: How long?
MR. SCHLESINGER: So I came there about nine--I f--was there until I retired, for about--for nearly 30 years.
LAMB: What year did you retire?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I retired about a year and a half ago.
LAMB: And are you writing a memoir?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I am writing memoirs. I finally--was finally persuaded to write memoirs, which I guess I better do while I can still remember anything.
LAMB: So where are you in that process?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I'm in the Second World War.
LAMB: And how much m--how much--how big is this gonna be, one volume?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I doubt it. I thi--I'm af--I'm afraid that it'll either be one long volume or two shorter volumes.
LAMB: And when do you hope to complete it?
MR. SCHLESINGER: When I complete it.
LAMB: Let me go back to your book: Hate speech...
LAMB: You write about this in here. What is it?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Hate speech is speech which incites racial, religious or ethnic antagonisms of one sort or another. And the question is whether hate speech should be suppressed. And of course, the suppression of hate speech would ab--require an abridgement of the First Amendment of the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Justice Holmes once said that the First Amendment is not just license for the speech with which we agree--o--obviously, there was no great virtue in that--but it's license for the--for the speech that we hate. And the fir--to--to try to identify hate speech involves the whole cr--and to suppress it raises the whole specter of censorship, and censorship of that kind would be hostile to the purposes of the First Amendment. I think it--hate speech is--is--is hateful, but I think the way to deal with it, as Justice Brandeis said, is--is to have more speech, not less speech.
LAMB: Let me read that quote, 'cause I have--that's on a page before that, on Brandeis.
LAMB: Did you ever know him?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Yes, I knew Justice Brandeis.
LAMB: Where did you know him?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He was a friend of my father's, and I've--with--with my parents, I visited the ju--Justice and Mrs. Brandeis in their summer cottage in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.
LAMB: And there's a school named after him.
MR. SCHLESINGER: The Brandeis University, yes, in Waltham, Massachusetts.
LAMB: When was he on the Supreme Court?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He was o--he was nom--he was put on the Supreme Court about 1915 by Woodrow Wilson, and he retired about 1938 or '39.
LAMB: What was he like?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He was a--he was a t--had the air of an Old Testament prophet, really. He looked--he looked rather--he was tall and impressive, looked like Lincoln in a way. He had great moral quality, great moral intensity, and he was a ve--he was a very impressive man.
LAMB: Here's the quote you have in here, h--talking about speech: "No danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion of falsehood and fallacies to avert the evil by processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence." I mean, we get into that discussion here about, what do you put on a network like this?
LAMB: And almost everything goes.
LAMB: I mean, if s--there's a public event and somebody says some of the things they say in these public events that are--you know, don't sound so good to some people's ears, we let it go.
LAMB: Should we do that?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Yes. I mean, I--what's the alternative? Censor it.
LAMB: Has there been a time when we have tried to censor things here?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think there've--there've been--always been censorship with regard to pornography, the allegedly obscene materials and so on, and I think there is some point in that, particularly ke--keeping children--when--when children are involved. I--but that--I don't think--I doubt that when James Madison wrote th--the Bill of Rights that he had hu--Hustler in mind or some of the m--semipor--pornographic magazines. But I think what he--so far as speech having to do with public policy or artistic expression and so on, we--we have to--to fight for the full liberty of the First Amendment.
LAMB: But you write in--in this in regard to what's going on in college campuses and multiculturalism and political correctness. What's your take on all that?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I can w--understand why college administrators would like to clamp down on--on--on abusive speech. I think that they're con--have a t--entirely understandable concern for kids who come from minority groups who are insecure and--and f--feel themselves intimidated by complacent white, bullying students. I mean, it's a d--very difficult situation for college administrators. Hence, the development of speech codes. Speech codes were means of prohibiting various forms of speech fr--as a matter of administrative convenience, you--one can understand why administrators go to that. But I think they make a mistake. I think there are other forms of persuasion, including the--I think the remedy, as Brandeis said, is mo--is more speech. I think the kind of--of--it's--more of a challenge to college presidents, to college deans, to professors, faculty members is to p--point out to the--the bullies and the--and the racists among their students what th--what the meaning of it is and what the implications of it are. I think that's gonna be--do much more good in the long run than speech codes which infringe the fir--on the First Amendment.
LAMB: You point out in your book that at the University of Pennsylvania they have a separate yearbook for blacks.
LAMB: What do you think of that idea?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I don't think it's a very good idea. I mean, I'm of--of that generation which believes very strongly in--in integration and assimilation, and I think that anything which--I mean, multiculturalism is a fact of life. We've always been a multicultural country from the beginning. I think for a long time the minority cultures were diminished and excluded. But one of the great themes of American history has been the movement from exclusion to inclusion. I mean, it's been a faltering movement. It's still incomplete, but yet it's the kind of persevering direction in which we--in which we--we are going. And I think the--the m--insofar as multiculturalism means recognition of the minority achievement, it's absolutely essential we should have much more of that insofar as it means looking at things with different perspectives. The arrival of Columbus, for example, from the viewpoint of those who met him, as well as from the viewpoint of those who sent him. That's very useful, too. The pr--problem with multiculturalism is when it become--when it rejects assimilation and integration and when it tries to establish and perpetuate and celebrate separate ethnic and racial communities, then you are moving in the direction of Yugoslavia, or at least of Canada.
LAMB: There is a--you ask a question here in--in your book. It says: `Can they be kidding up there in Northampton?' And you're talking about Smith College, Nor--Northampton, Massachusetts. And you say, `The office of student affairs at Smith College has put out a bulletin listing types of oppression for people belatedly, quote, "realizing that they are oppressed."' And then they go on to list the--you do--the sins of the oppressed: ablism, heterosexism and lookism.
LAMB: Where did you find this, and what's it all about?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I--I don't know. I--it's--I--I hope that Smith has r--r--recaptured its sense of humor about these things. But I--I think it isn't--lookism isn't--how is it--what--lookism defined?
LAMB: `Lookism says the belief that appearance is an indicator of a person's value, the construction of a standard for beauty, attractiveness and oppression through stereotypes and generalizations of both those who do not fit that standard and those who do.'
MR. SCHLESINGER: I know. I mean, it's--it's--it seems to me the desire to protect people reaches kind of ridiculous proportions. Life consists of hard knocks and--and ca--and developing an ability to--to deal with them. I think the notion that you should--that anything that hurts or might be considered to hurt someone's feelings should not be said is a very dangerous standard. The insensitivity standard leads, in the end, to s--what happened to Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie wrote a book which the ayatollahs of Iran regarded as blasphemous, as offensive to true, believing Muslims. So they put a price on his head, the f--the so-called Fatwa. It's still operative. I mean, he's--poor old Rushdie can't move anywhere without bodyguards. But that's--the notion--the hurt-feelings standard is--cannot survive in a free society. If we had the hurt-feelings standard throughout American history, that would've silenced Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Mr. Dooley, H.L. Mencken and so many other people who've enlivened and--and illuminated American life.
LAMB: Mr. Mencken is on your list back in the back of the baker's do--this is not the--baker's--yeah, baker's dozen. I guess that's 13, isn't it?
LAMB: That's not--not 12. And his book was "The American Language." Now would you have agreed with him politically on very many things?
MR. SCHLESINGER: No, no. I--Mencken was a great writer. And he was a wonderful, liberating sensibility--force in American life, particularly in the 1920s. He was a libertarian, but he was not a--he was not a democrat. His la--his--in the small D sense. He regarded the masses of people with a certain scorn, if not contempt. And--the booboisie, he called them.
LAMB: You say he's--he seems sour and mean-spirited.
MR. SCHLESINGER: In the--in the 1930s, at a time when we were in a great--in the Depression, of course, he regarded all political--all politicians as charlatans. He couldn't stand Theodore Roosevelt or Wilson or Briand or Franklin Roosevelt, and he was very much against the New Deal and so on. So politically when--I didn't always agree with him. But I admired him tremendously as a writer and as a liberating force and as a ch--great champion of the American language, which he saw as different from the English language. He was a great philologist. I mean, he collected words and sought out their origins, and "The American Language" is a fascinating book. He was a wonderful writer. It's a fascinating compilation of the d--of--the way that the American language had departed from the English language.
LAMB: I wrote something down, speaking of language, and I want to ask you about language and how much you think about when you write. The phrase that I wrote down here was `voguish blather.' You say, `I am confident'--let's see, `The situation in our universities, I'm confident, will soon right itself once the great silent majority of professors cry "Enough" and challenge what they know to be voguish blather.' How hard did you work on that phrase?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I don't know. I thi--these phrases slip into one's mind or pen or word processor.
LAMB: How much time do you spend thinking about language when you write?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Oh, I think of nothing else, I suppose. I mean, I try t--I think about--the--the precision of clarity of expression requires you to think about what you're trying to say. And to--I was--a great influence in my life as a writer was a historian and critic of--of half a century ago named Bernard De Voto. De Voto was--his--his history books, "Year of Decision," cr--"Across the Wide Missouri," and so on, are still read. But he was--among other things, he taught for awhile at Harvard, taught English composition. And he was a ruthless critic. He would write insulting and goading comments on--whenever he saw something which seemed pretentious or murky or obscure.

So it enforced on me a great concern for clarity and precision in the use of language. I use the dictionary whenever I want to make su--I got the right shade of expression. But what--clarity in language depends on clarity in thought. And the--the--one of the great virtues of writing is it requires you to thi--well, Dean Acheson used to say, `How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?'
LAMB: What kind of dictionary do you use?
MR. SCHLESINGER: An American Heritage dictionary, I think.
LAMB: And of the things that--you know, the research or the reading or the writing, of those three elements of what you do, which do you enjoy the most?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I enjoy 'em all. There's nothing more fun than--than archival research.
LAMB: Where do you do it?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I've--I've done it in many institutions through the country: the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Harvard University Library and so on, Kennedy Library, the Roosevelt Li--Kennedy Library in Boston, the Franklin Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park. I've even been at the Herbert Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa. And time passes going through manuscripts very agreeably and very quickly. But I like writing, too.
LAMB: What--what do you do when you write? Where--where do you do your writing?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I do my writing in--in the--in the--in our apartment in--in New York.
LAMB: In New York City?
LAMB: And...
MR. SCHLESINGER: On a wo--word processor.
LAMB: And how long have you been doing the word processor?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I have been on a word processor for eight or 10 years, I guess. I think it's a glorious invention, the ease of editing and transposition and so on. When I think of the years I spent typing and retyping the same page in order to get clean copy, I regard the word processor as a great blessing.
LAMB: Now as you're working on your memoirs, where are you in that process? Research? Writing? Thinking? Re...
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I do--I--I've--I r--I do combine. I mean, I--I have a--the research has been basically done. So whenever I enter a new phase of my life, I pull out folders and refresh my memory, look at letters or diaries which I've kept intermittently through my life. And memory is--plays a lot of tricks, but--but it also generates memories. So you suddenly begin to think about things you hadn't thought about for 40 or 50 years.
LAMB: When you kept diaries in your life, how did you do it? Physically, what did you put it on?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, for awhile, when I could--my handwriting was still legible, I kept it in handwriting, but the last 40 years or so I've typed.
LAMB: Do you have a lot of notes over the years?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And what part of your life do you have the most notes from?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I suppose I have a lot from the Kennedy years because I--I felt that I had an obligation as an historian who--given this seat on the making of history. I felt I had an obligation to note down things as--as I saw them happen.
LAMB: Did you do it right away after you saw 'em?
LAMB: Every day, night or...
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I--I would work of--often until 2 in the morning. I wouldn't do it necessarily every day, but e--nearly every day.
LAMB: And do you have stories that you've never told before that you'll end up writing in your memoirs? And how do you--tell us how you approach a memoir vs., say, either an autobiography or a history book.
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I don't know the difference between a memoir and an autobiography, but you--you try to recapture your--what you thought at some other time in your life and how that made a difference to your life and anything amusing or interesting that happened or people you met. It sort of takes its form as it goes.
LAMB: But, you know, a lot of people who've read this book think it sounds awfully conservative. Have you heard that before?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I don't think it's conservative at all. It's a very liberal book. It's just defending the First Amendment and so on. Yes, well, occasionally you get--they--they--they--I think there's a fallacy that the notion that militant multiculturalism is a liberal view. It's not a liberal view. It's really a view of the--of the new left of the 1960s. And if you remember the 1960s, the new left regarded liberals as their main enemy. They--they weren't worried about conservatives, but the new left and the radicals of the--of the '60s were very much opposed to liberals. This is a book that most liberals wholly agree with. It's the--it's the--the aging radicals of the 1960s and their equivalents in the 1990s who--who are the--who feel that to talk about one people is injustice and who want to perpetuate ethnic and religious and racial differences.

They're bound to lose, Brian. I think the most telling statistics is the rate of intermarriage, marriage across ethnic lines, marriage across religious lines, marriage across racial lines. More Japanese-Americans marry Caucasians than marry other Japanese-Americans. So many Jewish-Americans marry non-Jews that people are worried about the future of a--of a Jewish community, of a Jewish identity. The black-white marriages have--have quadrupled over the last generation. And the attitude toward what used to be called misogynation has been absolutely transformed. So I have confidence that love or sex will defeat those in the end who want to disunite America.
LAMB: Now periodically you--you've come out with a survey in The New York Times about the presidents of the United States. When did all that start?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, it really was my father's, like many--many other things I inherited, the presidential polls from--from my father. He first, in 1948 for Life magazine, polled historians and political scientists as to how they would rate the presidents. And then in 1962 the Times--New York Times Magazine asked him to replicate that poll, so he did it. And in 1996 the Times Magazine asked me to do the poll again. I--so I--I--I did it.
LAMB: And then about a couple months later the--I think it was the National Review came out with a poll by Walter McDougal, which showed a little bit of a difference on--as to how--the--the categories. And one of the criticisms they made of that poll was that you had of the 32 historians, only a couple of them were conservative. Did that--did you read that part of the criticism?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Yes. Yes. Well, there were some conservative historians there, and what--not that--most historians, it must be said, tend to be liberal. But we enforced McDonald and some other conservative historians in the poll.
LAMB: Why is it that most c--historians are--are liberal?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think because they be--they see the necessity of change, that change is the essence of history and, therefore, are more sympathetic to change than conservatives. If history--if there were--if cha--change were not the essence of history, there'd be no point writing history if everything stayed the same.
LAMB: In your book you talk about the African-American Baseline Essays. What were they or what are they?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, they're a series of essays which were published some years ago in--as part of the Afrocentric movement. These essays attempt to show that most good things in the world originated in Africa. They talk about the glories of African kingdoms and so on. They're a--a gross form of ethnic cheerleading. They're rejected by most thoughtful black historians, and they--but they had a b--I think people felt--people of good heart, generous intention, felt that if this made young black students study harder, if it made them feel better, why not use this as a basis for reform--changes in the curriculum? So that a number of cities, for a while, played around with one version or another of the Afrocentric curriculum influenced by these--these standard books--treatises to which you were referring.

I think the vogue has passed partly because of the--of the leadership of--of black intellectuals who feel that this is not the way to deal with the question, partly because there's no clear relationship between academic performance and the question of self-esteem and glorifi--if--I mean, self-esteem really comes from achievement. It's not a cause of achievement--achievement, it's a consequence of achievement. And I've never noticed that telling Greek-Americans about the glory that was Greece to Greek-American kids or Italian-American kids about the grandeur was--that was Rome improve their academic performance.
LAMB: What's the New York history curriculum?
MR. SCHLESINGER: The New York history curriculum is a result of the Iroquois lobby. There's a--a section calling for a--making a great point of the alleged influence of the Iroquois Confederation on the formation of the American Constitution. I mean, they're--you can unders--understand the pressures of ethnic groups, religious groups, gender groups on school curriculum. They want to get their nice words said about their own past and so on. But that--a result of that is a corruption of history.
LAMB: Current history, what do you think of it--basically, the books that you see coming out on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I--it all depends. Some of--some of them are very good; some of them are--are very hasty, superficial, sensational books. I think the--I think there's a great appetite for history in the US. I mean, the success of Ken Burns' documentaries, the success of The History Channel, the success of C-SPAN, which provides a kind of o--coverage of contemporary history. I mean, a number of people--you know better than I--watch "Question Time" in the House of Commons and so on. All this is--it shows a real desire to--to--to l--to learn history.

I like--I think there's some objection to memoirs by poli--poli--polit--people in government or out of government on the grounds that this--these are kiss-and-tell books and so on. I'm not against them. I think they enrich the historical documentation, if they're written rather quickly, whereas the people involved or people mentioned in the book are still alive, they have their chance to--to refute or rebut or criticize the--so that the whole process of publishing memoirs and other people commenting on them and--and supplementing them or denying them--all this enriches the evidence available for the future historian.
LAMB: You, at--at one point in the book, point out that in 1900 America was the most literate country in the world and that now we're 45th. What--what happened?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I suppose it's a--a decline of the--of the public school system, which is a large part of this. The public--the public schools were much more e--the decline of the public school system has been associated with the--the decline of the city and the--particularly the decline of the inner city, where public schools are valiantly doing--still go--carrying on. But so often they've been deformed by violence and by s--pressures to--to lower standards. It's--we're more and more a society that depends on the filling out of forms, so the illiteracy becomes a real--real problem. Other countries since 1900 have also become more literate, and that's another reason why we have declined in the standing.
LAMB: Go back to your dad. How much are you like your father or--you know, I know he's not here with us anymore, but how--how much were you like him?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I were--I certainly have inherited many thoughts of my father and--as well as an int--a preoccupation, obsession with--with history. He was a better teacher than I and more involved in academic life than I have been. He was--he was less of a political activist, I suppose, and less in--involved in kind of polemics and--about current--current policies.
LAMB: Do you have children of your own?
LAMB: Six children? What are the age ranges?
MR. SCHLESINGER: They range from 25 to over 50.
LAMB: What kind of work are they in?
MR. SCHLESINGER: One of them runs the World Policy Institute at--Stephen has written--written two or three books. The World Policy Institute at the new school in--in New York. My--my youngest son, An--Robert, works for The Hill, the weekly newspaper covering Capitol Hill in--in Washington.
LAMB: What is he, 25?
MR. SCHLESINGER: He's 25. They--I have a daughter who runs a public relations firm in Boston; another daughter who's a painter and teacher of art and a son who's an independent television producer, Andrew--did the one on Adlai Stevenson on PBS a couple years ago--a few years ago. And a son who--a stepson, who's an entertainment lawyer.
LAMB: And did you try to pass on what you got from your father in history to any of the kids?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I--it's more a matter of the atmosphere in which one grows up and--I mean, yes, I--Stephen and--and Catherine and--have both written books dealing with history; Catherine, one about the cultural revolution in China. Andy's made television documentaries of a historical sort. Robert is writing current history and so on.
LAMB: So what's the best training for someone who wants to be a historian?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Curiosity about the past and having good teachers in school and college.
LAMB: And when you were teaching at the City University of New York, what kind of courses did you teach?
MR. SCHLESINGER: I taught seminars or colloquia in diplomatic history and in--in--one term and intellectual history the next term. I alternated between diplomatic and intellectual history.
LAMB: And did you notice any change? I mean, you sh--showed that the literacy in this country has gone way down, but did you notice any change in--in the kind of students you got over the last 20 years or so?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, at graduate school you got people who were fairly qualified and who have a dedication. They want to get a PhD degree in order to teach or to write. And I had--I--both Harvard and at City University I had very good students. I think that they--there's much less training in writing, it seems to me, than there used to be. I think the true-or-false exams--exams in which you don't have to write anything, you just indicate and then you feed them into a compu--I think they're a menace. I think that people should be forced to write all the time from the earliest grades. I think clarity and expression in communication is the essential thing, and I think there has been a decline in that.
LAMB: Now looking back over the people you've known in your life--forget the obvious, the Jack Kennedys and the Robert Kennedys and people like that--who have you enjoyed knowing the most?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think there are two people, one American and one English. The American is Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian.
LAMB: And you have him as one of your baker's dozen.
MR. SCHLESINGER: Yes. His book, the "Irony of American History"--I learned a great deal for him--from him.
LAMB: At Harvard.
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I actually met him through the Americans for Democratic Action, ADA, and--but I c--we became great friends and I learned a great deal fro--from him, from his writings. Another is the Englishman Isaiah Berlin, who died the other day, a brilliant, sparkling man of high intelligence, wide range, great wit, great humanity and a great i--great historian of ideas.
LAMB: So when do you find yourself connecting with somebody? What--what is it about those two that--that you--you personally enjoyed so much?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I think partly, personal chemistry and partly that I learned a great deal from them.
LAMB: And in history, besides Jack Kennedy, who was your favorite president and why?
MR. SCHLESINGER: FDR. I think FDR was a man who really knew how to be president. And, of course, I grew up when FDR was president. His capacity to--to bring back a stricken nation--remember that in--when he became president, a quarter of the labor force was out of work, couldn't find work. Our Gross Domestic Product was half of what it'd been a few years before. The banks were all closed and so on. And his capacity to bring--revive this country through leadership and experiment and audacity--and then, of course, his wisdom about the war. So I think he led our country through the worst Depression in our history and the greatest war in our history. And that's why, all--nearly all the polls end up with Lincoln, Washington and FDR as our three greatest presidents.
LAMB: And with the little bit of time we have left, where would you put Bill Clinton at the six-year mark?
MR. SCHLESINGER: Hard to--it's hard to say. I think he's--he's a--he's a man of ve--high intelligence, impressive technical command of complicated issues. When the spirit moves him, he has genuine eloquence. And the spirit moves him most in the--most crucial issue we face as a c--nation; that is a question of race. On the other hand, he's--he's made some decisions such as the so-called welfare reform--signing the welfare so-called reform bill, which I regret. It's a mixed record. You can't--you can never tell till the opera's over.
LAMB: And our guest has been the author of this book, which is in its third edition--it came out in '91, '92 and now '98--"The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society." Doc--not doctor, but Arthur M. Schlesinger...
LAMB: ...Jr. Thank you very much.
MR. SCHLESINGER: Thank you, Brian.
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