A Rebel in Defense of Tradition

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

From the struggle against fascism in the 1930’s to the antiwar protests of the 1960’s, Dwight Macdonald always threw himself headlong into the thick of things. Whether as political activist or editor and writer, he delineated major issues and exposed hypocrisies with a scathing honesty and lively lucidity that made him one of the leading cultural figures of his day.

Though briefly a member of the Trotskyist Socialist Worker’s Party, Macdonald was too independent a thinker for the straitjacket of doctrinaire Marxism. With his anarchist bent, he denounced the oppression of all authoritarian governments, whether in Germany, Russia, or the United States.

Consequently, during World War II, he refused to be a cheerleader for the war effort. An outspoken pacifist, Macdonald decried Allied atrocities, such as saturation bombing and the use of the atomic bomb. At the beginning of the Cold War era, his hatred of Stalin led him to support American policies, but only until the advent of McCarthyism.

Gaining celebrity with cultural criticism in magazines like THE NEW YORKER and ESQUIRE, he championed the standards of the rational, humanistic tradition. Though this reflected a long-held antipathy to the dehumanizing effects of mass culture, many people came to think of him as a conservative and were surprised by his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the student protests against the Vietnam War. Despite his cultural elitism,...

(The entire section is 434 words.)