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AND I QUOTE / What Political Books Are Saying

Dwight Macdonald and the politics Circle. By Gregory D. Sumner (Cornell University: $32.50, 272 pp.)

September 01, 1996|John Balzar

" . . . A half century later, as Cold War polarities break down and new sets of 'meaningful choices' present themselves, it is my belief that the insights of Macdonald's circle, however fragmentary or flawed, merit a second look. The problems these writers struggled against remain with us in our own moment of crisis and opportunity: the 'anti-human dynamics' of high technology and bureaucratic organization, the dangerous centralization of economic and political power, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the fear and estrangement people feel among themselves. . . . Too often as [Vaclav] Havel observes, people continue to 'shrug off anything that goes beyond their everyday, routine concern for their own livelihood; they seek ways of escape; they succumb to apathy, to indifference toward suprapersonal values and their fellow men, to spiritual passivity and depression.' "

****

Macdonald was an American original--antiwar crusader during World War II and sparkplug for the "new left" of the 1940s. His magazine, politics, with a small P, drew a circle of intellectuals whose ideas and names, like Mary McCarthy and Albert Camus, stayed with us. Historian Sumner takes a scholarly look at the characters and crusades of Macdonald's circle. Their notions sometimes seem painfully elitist and misguided today, but just as often the circle came around to problems that bedevil us still, like the dignity of the individual. And who controls that intellectual turf today, left or right? No matter whether you are comfortable or repelled with America's conservative drift, this book challenges the sensibilities of all who feel certain about their answers for making this a better world.

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