I am in the part of Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician that is about the Alger Hiss case, in which Congressman Richard Nixon played a significant role. (For background on that case, see my post here.) As I said in my first post about Morris’ book, one reason that I wanted to read it was to get an alternative perspective about the Hiss case, since much of what I have read thus far for my Year (or More) of Nixon seems to presume that Hiss actually did engage in espionage for the Soviet Union. I read in an Amazon review of Morris’ book, however, that Morris is rather skeptical of ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers’ claim that such was the case. In terms of blogging, I will probably save my post (or posts) about Morris’ discussion of the Hiss case for the future, after I have gotten a better idea of where Morris is going in his narration and arguments.
In this post, however, I’d like to use as my starting-point something that Morris says on page 376. The topic is Richard Nixon’s alienation from academia, which, according to Morris, occurred after the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ treatment of scientist Edward Condon. (For background on this, see my post here.) Nixon tried to distance himself from that through a letter to Douglas Maggs, a critic and one of Nixon’s old law professors, and the Maggs letter went to others within academia as well. But Nixon was unsuccessful in creating a bridge between himself and academia. Morris states:
“In particular, the affair left a first legacy of distrust and suspicion in academic and scientific circles that would thicken into near-professional anathema, despite his solicitous gestures like the long letter to Maggs. It would be a political liability for Richard Nixon for years to come and soon a touchstone for his own wounded resentment and alienation vis-[a]-vis an intellectual world that might have been a much greater ally and resource for him.”
Nixon’s alienation from academia has come up more than once in My Year (or More) of Nixon. Nixon, on some level, was drawn to academia. In my post here, I talk about Nixon’s fantasy about being an academic at Oxford—-of reading, teaching, and writing. But I read somewhere (it may have been in David Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow) that there were academics who were rather amused by Nixon’s fantasy. They must not have thought that Nixon’s thoughts were good enough for him to be within their ranks! I read in another place that, while Nixon liked to read, his shelves were stocked mostly with older books and classics, rather than the newer, up-to-date books that academics were discussing. And Stephen Ambrose, in his discussion of the books about foreign policy that Nixon wrote, makes the point that Nixon’s books were not particularly accepted within academia. Ambrose himself is rather critical of Nixon’s books, saying that they were more like speeches and were inconsistent.
I myself have a love-hate relationship with academia. There are times when I believe that certain academics are snobbish, that they talk an issue to death without going anywhere, and that they engage in sophistry that really doesn’t mean anything. I’ve often wondered if they find my thoughts, my writing, or the books that I read to be good enough. On the other hand, there are times when I am sensitized to the necessity for academia. I was one time watching snippets of a debate between Christians and atheists, in which Kirk Cameron and Roy Comfort were representing the Christian side. Kirk Cameron was trying to ridicule evolution, and he held up a picture of a “crockaduck,” a fictional intermediary between a crocodile and a duck. One of the atheists looked embarrassed to be on the same stage with Kirk Cameron, but the atheist side didn’t impress me either, for one of the atheists was arguing for Christ-mythicism and was apparently unaware of when Josephus wrote his books. That’s when it occurred to me: You either value the people who have seriously studied issues and who know what they’re talking about, or you have the “crockaduck.”