The Cold War on Campus


Steven Lukes reviews David Caute's Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic, in Dissent:

In March 1963 Isaiah Berlin asked David Caute what “in principle should disbar a man from holding a senior academic post.” It was, he explained, Isaac Deutscher he had in mind, a man “peddling pernicious myths” and “falsifying evidence—deliberate falsification!” He was “not fit to teach,” indeed “dangerous.” Deutscher, author of the three-volume life of Trotsky, one of the great biographies of the last century, was applying for a teaching post at the University of Sussex. There was unanimous enthusiasm in the faculty for appointing Deutscher, and Berlin was asked by Lord Fulton, the vice-chancellor of the university, to participate in the committee to appoint a new chair in Soviet studies. In the archives, Caute has found Berlin’s reply containing these sentences: “The candidate of whom you speak is the only man whose presence in the same academic community as myself I should find morally intolerable. . . . I think there is a limit below which lack of scruple must not go in the case of academic teachers. . . . The man in question is the only one about whom I have any such feeling—there is literally no-one [else], so far as I know, to whom I would wish to urge such objections.” Deutscher’s appointment was effectively vetoed. Three months later, Fulton wrote to Deutscher explaining its impossibility “in the light of our other commitments.”

Six years later, after Deutscher’s death, a brief, garbled version of the story appeared in the left-wing magazine Black Dwarf. This caused Berlin intense distress. He wrote several self-exonerating letters to Deutscher’s widow, Tamara, denying he had vetoed the appointment and claiming not to know why the decision had been made. Had the university wished to appoint her husband, he wrote, it knew that “no opposition to this would come from me.” He even enlisted a friend “to make it all right for me with Mrs. Deutscher.” When Christopher Hitchens picked up the story in the New Statesman, he was forced to issue a retraction because Tamara Deutscher, though skeptical of Berlin’s disclaimer, lacked evidence. Deutscher had sought the Sussex appointment in order to focus on his planned, but never written, biography of Lenin. Instead, his time was consumed with journalism and speeches at teach-ins about Vietnam in several countries. Caute comments that it is hard to imagine him abandoning all that for humdrum professorial duties and suggests that, leaving aside his motives, Berlin may even have “done the University of Sussex, or its students, a small favor.”

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