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MacPherson reminds us that in 1992, three years after Stones death, a high officer of the former Soviet Unions former spy service, the K.G.B., revealed that from time to time in the 1960s, Stone did accept luncheon invitations, and the K.G.B. picked up the tab. The K.G.B. agent was Oleg Kalugin, and, in recalling those lunches, he left the impression that Stone might have been a Soviet operative. Stones enemies in the United States, in a delirium of joy, responded to Kalugins remarks by leveling some very serious posthumous accusations at Stone, and they have kept on doing so, as anyone could have predicted.

Eventually, however, Kalugin clarified his remarks. MacPherson has tracked him down to confirm his clarifications, and she concludes emphatically that Stone was not, in fact, a Soviet spy, nor did Kalugin ever mean to suggest otherwise. MacPherson is scathing about the accusations. The attacks, as tawdry as they are untruthful, she writes, have been made by those with a vested interest in portraying Stone as a paid Kremlin stooge because he remains an icon to those who despise all that the far right espoused. She goes on in this irate vein  which would be fair enough, except that carried away perhaps by her own polemical fury, she seems not to notice that in her ardor to rescue Stone from his enemies, she has yanked the rope a little too firmly and has accidentally hanged the man.

MacPherson informs us that Kalugin, having specified that Stone was never on the Soviet payroll, described Stone as a fellow traveler  meaning a friendly supporter of the Soviet cause, though not a disciplined member of any Communist organization. Kalugin explained (in words no admirer of I. F. Stone will want to read) that Stone began his cooperation with the Soviet intelligence long before me, based entirely on his view of the world. Stone was willing to perform tasks. He would find out what the views of someone in the government were or some senator on such and such an issue.

MacPherson beams a benign light on those remarks. She observes that, first, there is a world of difference between merely cooperating with the K.G.B. and actively serving as an espionage agent; and, second, any proper journalist would leap at the opportunity to chat with well-connected functionaries of a foreign power; and, third, many a Washington big shot has conducted back-channel conversations with foreign governments. And so forth, one exculpatory point after another, each of which seems reasonable enough, except that, when you add them up, the sundry points seem to have missed the point. Stone, after all, has been extolled as a god, or, at least, an inspiring model for the journalists of today, and while it is good to distinguish between cooperation and espionage, and excellent to learn that Stone sought out acquaintances in many a dark corner, something about his willingness to perform tasks as part of his longtime cooperation with Soviet intelligence is bound to make us wonder, What on earth was that about?

MacPherson acknowledges that sometimes a slant or bias did creep into Stones journalism  a double standard, as she describes it, which tended to favor the Soviet Union and, in later years, other left-wing dictatorships. Osnos, the publisher of The Best of I. F. Stone, worked for Stone as an assistant in the 1960s and boasts of this in his introduction; and Weber, a freelance writer who edited the anthology, makes plain that he, too, stands solidly in Stones corner. Yet even their book sometimes demonstrates, if only inadvertently, the slant or bias in his work  for instance, his commentary on the death of Stalin in 1953, with its ringing homage: Magnanimous salute was called for on such an occasion. For that matter, even Stones Vietnam journalism, as presented both in MacPhersons biography and in the anthology, looks only halfway prescient today. Stone foresaw that America would lose the war, and he was admirably shrewd about this. But, from reading his articles, you would never have guessed what the consequences of Communisms victory would be  the forced labor camps, the flight of the boat people into the South China Sea, the massacre of huge portions of the population of Cambodia and so forth: topics on which he was not so prescient.
    The Watchdog: a review of All Governments Lie by Myra MacPherson and THE BEST OF I. F. STONE Edited by Karl Weber. Introduction by Peter Osnos (PAUL BERMAN, 10/01/06, NY Times Book Review)

When ill health forced him to cease publication of I.F. Stone's Weekly in 1971, the author turned to a topic which had fascinated him for many years:  How could the free and democratic city of Athens, which he venerated, have tried and executed the world's greatest philosopher for exercising Free Speech?  Ever since Socrates drank the hemlock in 399 B.C. this question has been a subject of fierce debate in Western academia.  Stone's argument, inconsistent and muddled to some degree, is that Socrates was finally so anti-democratic that he provoked the confrontation and thereupon refused to avail himself of available defenses like the right of free speech because he had quite simply determined that he had reached an opportune moment at which to die.  One is put in mind of the notorious excuse of the rapist: She asked for it.

Now I'm not a big fan of psychoanalysis, particularly when applied from a distance, but it's awfully hard not to resort to some pop psychology here.  Stone you see, for all his reputation as a civil libertarian, was also at least a fellow traveler and quite possibly, even probably, a paid agent of the Soviet Union, long after even the responsible Left had finally decided that the USSR was too odious to support.  In addition, at the time of the book's publication, Stone, like Socrates, was quite an old man.

It seems to me that this work could easily be read as Stone's Apology, since the subtexts of the story attempt to reconcile two of the central problems raised by his own life and career but paralleling Socrates.  First, as regards the state and civil liberties, Stone and others had argued during the Cold War that domestic Communists should be protected by Free Speech rights.  They argued for an absolute Free Speech standard, but, unfortunately for them, even Athens, the most idealized democracy in human history, had not applied this standard, executing Socrates for his politico/religious teachings.  Anti-Communists, on the contrary, had argued that Free Speech protections ended at the point where the speaker began advocating the forcible overthrow of the democratic regime.  They maintained, quite correctly it seems to me, that Speech is guaranteed within the context of the Constitution and that those who oppose the very system place themselves beyond the pale.  This is perfectly consistent with our historic treatment of criminals, who forfeit constitutional rights, and Secessionist states, which were forcibly returned to the Union.  Stone ultimately falls back on the argument that Athens acted untrue to its own ideals, but that Socrates forced them to and moreover, this was essential to his apotheosis as a philosophical martyr.  This argument strikes me as inadequate; I'd conclude, instead, that both Athens and America were justified in defending themselves against anti-democratic forces in their midst.

Having failed to convict Athens/America, he likewise fails to acquit Socrates/Stone.  For one thing, the Socrates portrayed here is a pretty repellent figure.  Much of this derives from applying 20th Century standards of human rights and political philosophy to a pre-Christian man, but even on his own terms, Socrates emerges as a pedantic, elitist, condescending, totalitarian.  Can one doubt that when the children of Vietnamese, Chinese and Soviet refugees begin to write our history books in the next century the portrait of those in the West who supported Stalin and Mao and Ho Chi Minh  will be similarly brutal?  Just as Socrates must bear some responsibility for the tyranny of Alcibiades and Critias, so must the I.F. Stone's of our times share in the responsibility for the gulag and the killing fields and the Cultural Revolution.

One of the issues that Stone takes up is why the Athenians waited as long as they did to silence Socrates.  The real answer to this question is once again found in our own Century.  There are always going to be people in our society who fundamentally oppose our system of government and want to impose tyranny.  In general, we tolerate them and assume that they are annoying but basically harmless.  Periodically however, external events lead us to ruthlessly suppress them.  During WWI President Wilson launched one of the most repressive assaults in our nation's history on American radicals.  When WWII broke out it became possible for the Left to destroy Lindbergh and the America First movement.  The outbreak of the Cold War brought blacklisting for Communists.  Most recently, the Oklahoma City bombing meant open season on the militias.  Regardless of which end of the political spectrum these groups represent and irrespective of which political party is in power, even as open a democracy as ours responds with brutal force when threatened from within.

We do not find the "Fire in a Crowded Theater" concept very hard to accept.  You can say what you want until you become a threat to people.  Why do folks have so much trouble applying this standard on a grander scale?  Ideas should, and do, have consequences.  Let citizens advocate Communism, Fascism, Theocracy, whatever they like, as long as they are marginal and unpopular; but as soon as their ideas find traction or a foreign nation with like ideas threatens us, then crank up the House Un-American Activities Committee.  It ain't pretty, but it works.

In the final analysis, the book, despite some significant flaws, is an interesting, charmingly idiosyncratic and always entertaining look at the pivotal drama in the life of Socrates, one of the seminal figures in all of Western thought, and, at the same time, an amusing, though unintended, glimpse into the guilty conscience of I.F. Stone, an icon of the modern Left.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -I.F. Stone Breaks the Socrates Story: An old muckraker sheds fresh light on the 2,500-year-old mystery and reveals some Athenian political realities that Plato did his best to hide.(I.F. Stone, Originally published in The New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1979)
    -NY REVIEW of BOOKS ARCHIVE stories by I.F. Stone
    -REVIEW:  IZZY A Biography of I. F. Stone. By Robert C. Cottrell (John B. Judis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: (M.F. Burnyeat: Cracking the Socrates Case, NY Review of Books)
        The Trial of Socrates by I.F. Stone
    -REVIEW: THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES. By I. F. Stone (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: DOWN WITH DEMOCRACY!  (Julia Annas, NY Times Book Review)
    -Who's out to Lunch Here: I.F. Stone and the KGB (Cassandra Tate, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ESSAY: sleaze, smears and spleen (Eric Alterman, Salon)
    -ESSAY: "I Lied": Testing the Intellectual  Honesty of Eric Alterman (Philip Nobile, New York Press)
    -ESSAY: The Anti-War Movement Had It Wrong (Stephen B. Young, Heterodoxy)

    -The Last Days of Socrates (This site is designed to help first year philosophy students read the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and the death scene from the Phaedo.)
    -Background on Socrates and Democracy  ( J. F. Johnson)
    -[LECTURE 8: Socrates and Apology]
    -ETEXT: The Apology of Socrates
    -Socrates, Xenophon, and Plato
    -Greek Philosophy: Socrates
    -ESSAY: Commentary on Plato's Apology of Socrates (Friesian School)
    -ESSAY: The Uses and Disadvantages of Socrates (Christopher Rowe, Department of Classics, University of Durham)
    -ESSAY: Socrates or The Baby and the Bathwater (Stanley L. Jaki)
    -ESSAY: ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY  Socrates: Part I: Socrates' Apology (Ralph Wedgwood)
    -ESSAY: Socrates Had It Coming
    -PAINTING: Death of Socrates (Jacques Louis David)
    -The Development of Greek Law (Rachael Samberg)
    -ESSAY : The Seductions of Socrates (David K. O'Connor, First Things)
    -REVIEW: (M.F. Burnyeat: The Virtues of Plato, NY Review of Books)
        Plato: The Written and Unwritten Doctrines by J.N. Findlay
        Plato and Platonism: An Introduction by J.N. Findlay
        Plato's Moral Theory: The Early and Middle Dialogues by Terence Irwin
    -REVIEW:  (M.F. Burnyeat: Sphinx Without a Secret, NY Review of Books)
        Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy by Leo Strauss
    -REVIEW: (Arnaldo Momigliano: The Greeks and Us, NY Review of Books)
        Democracy Ancient and Modern by M.I. Finley
        The Ancient Economy by M.I. Finley
        The Use and Abuse of History by M.I. Finley
    -REVIEW: (Gilbert Ryle: If Plato Only Knew, NY Review of Books)
        The Republic of Plato by Alan Bloom
        Plato: The Dialogues, Second and Third Periods The Bollingen Series by Paul Friedländer and
        Plato's Analytical Method by Kenneth M. Sayre
    -REVIEW: (M.I. Finley: Greek to Him, NY Review of Books)
        Enter Plato by Alvin W. Gouldner
        Plato's Thought in the Making by J.E. Raven
    -REVIEW: (Oliver Taplin: Monument to the End of an Era, NY Review of Books)
        The Cambridge History of Classical Literature Vol 1: Greek Literature
    -REVIEW: (Jasper Griffin: Fun City, NY Review of Books)
        Athens from Alexander to Antony by Christian Habicht
    -REVIEW: Jasper Griffin: Plato's Grand Design, NY Review of Books
        The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault by Alexander Nehamas
        Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form by Charles H. Kahn
    -ESSAY: The Socratic Subject (Neil Leavitt, Boston Book Review) -ESSAY: Socrates, Philosophy and Hubris: Did Socrates Think Philosophy is Impossible? (Shaun Baker, Sic et Non - Forum for Philosophy and Culture)
    -ESSAY : The Second Fall of Rome :  Have the past two centuries of Western culture been one long saga of lionizing Greece while disparaging the cultural prestige and classical values of ancient Rome? (Michael Lind, Wilson Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: The Trials and Death of Socrates (Christopher Nelson, August 22nd, 2022, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Socrates and the life worth living: The ancient Greek philosopher's probing questions still perturb and inspire us today (Oscar Davis, Sep 20, 2022, MercatorNet)
    -ESSAY: The Origin of Socrates: What We Know (and Don’t Know): The Greek philosopher is one of history's most famous figures, but much of his life remains a mystery. (Sara Novak, Sep 7, 2022, Discover)
    -ESSAY: Can Socrates Change Your Life? (David Corey, October 2nd, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Critique of Identity Politics: “For the Stoic, however, personal identity is not a fragmented life of intersecting cultural identities but rather a holistic and unified embodiment of rationality endowed by nature.” (Jonathan Church, 03/19/2023, Merion West)