Central Intellectual Agency
Shepard Stone, the CIA, and the Cold War of ideas.
Sep 3, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 47 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
BETWEEN 1950 AND 1970, two battles of the Cold War raged across Western Europe and the United States. The first was the fight against the Soviet Union’s effort to control the world of ideas and letters. The second was the struggle to overcome the anti-Americanism of European intellectuals. These were battles of high purpose in the campaign against communism, but they were filled with low skirmishes.
The details are now mostly forgotten, but in a scholarly volume called America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe, Volker R. Berghahn, a history professor at Columbia University, has resurrected them, centering his story on the fascinating character of Shepard Stone, the American bureaucrat, editor, writer, and intellectual cold warrior.
After War World II, the Kremlin relaunched its cultural offensive against the West, and the then-newly created CIA sought to command the free world’s countermeasures. In 1950 it secretly planned and financed what became known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, headquartered in Paris, at the very heart of the European anti-Americanism that was being fanned by Stalinist intellectuals. The CIA’s role was exposed in 1967, which—given the bad odor of Cold War spying—pretty much ended the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s moral standing. That was a shame, for there were some spectacular intellectual achievements to the congress’s credit, notably its magazines: Encounter in England, Der Monat in Germany, Preuves in France, Tempo Presente in Italy, Cuadernos in Latin America, and Quest in India.
Those too young to remember may ask: What was so wrong about CIA financing? Plenty—and the CIA man in Paris, the likable Michael Josselson, knew it. Berghahn quotes a letter in which Josselson says he tried hard "to protect all those associated with the Congress from any damage to their reputation which might result from a discovery of the CIA connection." Had the money been openly handed to managerial intellectuals to play with, the Congress for Cultural Freedom might have worked out. But the CIA, captivated by a sense of omniscience, wanted to run, if not the actual content of magazines like Encounter, then at least the political activities of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
In short, the CIA reduced the congress to a CIA department. And, like the CIA, the resulting congress seemed more concerned with Europe than America. As Berghahn describes it, "The Congress for Cultural Freedom had been turned into an organization that was much more responsive to European intellectuals’ preoccupations." So the Europeans were wined and dined, and, lured by juicy honoraria, these poules de luxe agreed to be wafted to the loveliest places in the Mediterranean at high season for conferences and seminars. A fat lot of good it did—since anti-American Europeans, whether left or right, remain incorrigible to this day.
The effect was fiascoes like the international organization (the "Congress for Cultural Freedom Secretariat") hoping to win the admiration of European intellectuals by demanding in vain that its American affiliate (the "American Committee for Cultural Freedom") support a pardon of the Rosenbergs, the atomic spies, on the eve of their execution. When the American congress publicly condemned Bertrand Russell for his 1956 magazine article charging that the United States was a police state run by J. Edgar Hoover, the Paris headquarters rebuked the Americans for daring to criticize Lord Russell—an honorary Congress for Cultural Freedom chairman no less. At which point, Diana Trilling, then the chairman of the American congress, fired off to the parent congress a brutal question: "How untruthful about America may a man be and still be useful to an organization which is pledged to truth and which numbers among its affiliates an American branch?" (I should note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was a later chairman of the American affiliate.) The Congress for Cultural Freedom drove from its board Arthur Koestler and Sidney Hook because they were hard-line anti-Communists—and by shunting these
Berghahn’s book, an important contribution to intellectual history, is the most recent volume on the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Among the earlier ones were Peter Coleman’s judicious study The Liberal Conspiracy and Frances Stonor Saunders’s The Cultural Cold War, a tirade against anything and everything the Congress for Cultural Freedom did. Berghahn, however, has availed himself of the archived papers of the late Shepard Stone, whose justifiable claim to fame was the years he devoted to the democratization of the defeated Nazi state as an officer of the United States High Commission in West Germany.