Model of Dissent

Politics and the Intellectual
Conversations with Irving Howe
Edited by John Rodden and Ethan Goffman
Purdue University Press, $30.95, 376 pp.

The last time I saw Irving Howe was at Carnegie Hall. We bumped into each other during the concert’s intermission. He was aglow. Isn’t it wonderful, Peter, he exclaimed, wonderful! The concert was Antonín Dvořák’s Stabat Mater.

That this insistently secular left-wing Jewish intellectual was so entranced and moved by a profoundly religious, explicitly Christian work still makes me shake my head with wonder, even if I associate this last meeting with Howe’s unexpected death at age seventy-two, about eighteen months later, in May 1993.

I met Irving Howe a quarter-century earlier because of a piece I wrote in this magazine. It was something of a rejoinder accompanying an article that I myself had urged Commonweal to publish. The other article, “Bankruptcy of the Liberals” (January 7, 1966), was the text of a passionate speech that Carl Oglesby, then president of Students for a Democratic Society, had delivered at a November 27, 1965, antiwar march that drew over twenty-five thousand people to the Washington Monument.

Instead of predictable rhetoric that might have pleased, though more likely bored, the broad coalition of antiwar marchers, Oglesby had delivered a biting critique of the anti-Communist doctrine that routinely set America against virtually every revolutionary impulse around the world, that also conveniently served American economic interests, and that had been forged and maintained as much by liberals as conservatives. ...

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.