Off Dead Center: William Appleman Williams

WilliamsGreg Grandin in The Nation:

“Why William Appleman Williams, for God’s sake?” asked Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1999 when he learned that Williams’s The Contours of American History had been voted one of the 100 best nonfiction books of the twentieth century by the Modern Library. Schlesinger had spent the better part of half a century fighting the influence of Williams, describing him in 1954 as “pro-communist” to the president of the American Historical Association. In 1959 the New York Times picked Schlesinger’s The Coming of the New Deal and Williams’s The Tragedy of American Diplomacy as best books of the year, calling the first, in a nod to a liberalism still vital, a “spirited study” and the second a “free-swinging attack” on US foreign policy, hinting at the raucous dissent to come. But forty years later, Schlesinger considered the fight won. The victory of the United States in the cold war had disproved Williams’s jeremiads against an American empire careening toward disaster, while the concomitant collapse of the left had confirmed Schlesinger’s position as curator of America’s historical sensibility–liberal, democratic, pragmatic. Schlesinger was one of the Modern Library’s jurors, and his own The Age of Jackson made the cut. Still, he couldn’t keep Williams, dead for nearly a decade, out of the pantheon. For God’s sake.