Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Eulogy for Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
On the morning after Arthur’s death, his son, Stephen, telephoned to invite me to the apartment that evening for a gathering of Arthur’s friends. This act of grace took me back to the Harvard of the 1950s, when our friendship was born, before the loss of our national consensus, to an age of relative innocence when, at joint faculty seminars of Harvard and MIT, professors discussed together how to tame the nuclear age. Arthur and I became acquainted at those seminars.
One Friday in 1955, I ran into Arthur in Harvard Yard. I was a first-year instructor; he a famous tenured professor, who had already won a Pulitzer Prize. Arthur showed me a letter he was carrying in his pocket from Tom Finletter, a former Secretary of the Air Force, supporting the then-dominant strategic principle of massive retaliation. Over the weekend, I set down contrary views in a note to Arthur. Without telling me, Arthur sent my comments to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, long-time editor of Foreign Affairs. Armstrong asked me to turn them into an article. It became my first published public policy piece. On the basis of it, I was made director of a study group at the Council on Foreign Relations. From that emerged my first book on foreign affairs.
In all that long-ago time in Cambridge, Arthur was a solicitous mentor and friend. He introduced me to a staggering circle of his acquaintances, ranging from presidential candidates to famous writers. Later on, in the early months of the Kennedy presidency, he made it possible for me to participate at the fringes of the White House, in the surge of hope and commitment that swept our society. Another bond between us was my admiration for Arthur’s scholarship in twentieth-century American history. When we first met, Arthur was working on his magisterial Age of Roosevelt. As a child in Nazi Germany, Roosevelt had become for me, in some mysterious way for the Nazi press rarely mentioned him, a symbol of hope and salvation. So Arthur’s evocation of Franklin Roosevelt, and when he invited me to lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt, represented a kind of fulfillment. For all of that, I have been grateful and will always remain so.
As the decades went by, our paths diverged. Both of us remained true to our convictions, and they were not always the same. Arthur found occasions to express his reservations, though very rarely publicly and never confrontationally. It made no difference to my affection for him and my enormous respect for his work and for what he has contributed to our society. Nor did our differences affect his goodwill towards me. We went to each other’s major birthday celebrations. We met for an occasional dinner or lunch. I spoke at a celebration of his 87th birthday (and Galbraith’s 96th), organized on behalf of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute by Bill Vanden Heuvel. He asked me to write a blurb for his memoirs.
The last time I encountered Arthur was at the Asia Society, two weeks before his death. The occasion was a dinner following a commemoration of my secret trip to China in 1971. “It all started with you” I said, “and that Finletter letter.” Arthur had become quite frail by then. But he retained that gentle smile and characteristic generosity, and he replied: “No, something else would have brought you here.
I have not come to this event so much to bear witness to Arthur’s role in my life as to make a larger point. Throughout these decades of controversy and confrontation, Arthur maintained, towards me and others with whom he may have differed, civility and respect across the ever-higher barricades. One day, I hope soon, the barricades must come down. We must recapture the common faith in our mission in the world. Arthur’s largeness of spirit and his essential humanity can serve as an inspiration to do so.
I want to thank Alexandra for inviting me to share reflections about a seminal figure. And I also thank Steve who, on the evening after Arthur’s death, said something that I shall always treat as a badge of honor: “He bonded with you fifty years ago, and nothing was ever able to break it.”