Alger Hiss’s Teachable Moments

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The tendency of academic elites to embrace America’s enemies is not a new one. Indeed, the academic imprimatur on any person, place or thing should give one pause.

“The most ardent defenders of Hiss or of Chambers often proclaimed that ‘mere’ evidence alone could never shake an essential belief in their man’s truthfulness,” Allen Weinstein wrote in Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. “The episode became, for many, an article of faith.”

In the 1970s, Weinstein reviewed the case against high-ranking New Deal official Alger Hiss, whose former compatriot Whitaker Chambers accused him of treason on behalf of the communist Soviet Union and found him as guilty as the jury that pronounced that same verdict in 1950. Hiss was so connected that he virtually ran the negotiations at the Yalta conference during World War II when he accompanied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his war-time meeting with British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein show in their book Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government.

This year, the Hoover Institution Press has come out with a new edition of Perjury which incorporates material from declassified U. S. government documents and even archives in the formerly communist Soviet bloc.

“Even if Hiss himself were to confess his guilt, I wouldn’t believe it,” a Columbia professor once told Sydney Hook. Hiss never did and the academic community, if not as enthusiastic about him as it once was, has yet to reveal an epiphany on the subject of the case.

“I know Alger Hiss,” syndicated columnist and author Walter Lippmann said in 1949. “He couldn’t be guilty of treason.”  Meanwhile, “Noel and Herta Field in their interrogations by Hungarian and Czech security officers in 1949 (according to Professor Karel Kaplan, who read the dossiers) both named Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent in the State Department during the 1930s,” Weinstein notes in a footnote. “Professor Maria Schmidt, who read the same files in the 1990s, has also confirmed the naming of Hiss by Field as a Soviet agent, as do NKVD records opened to the author.”

“FIELD worked for the US State Department and the League of Nations in the 1930s acting as a source for Soviet Intelligence,” according to the official British archives. As for the NKVD, it  was “a direct instrument of Stalin for use against the party and the country during the Great Terror of the 1930s,” according to the Library of Congress.

Lippmann, revered by Journalism professors, has a building named after him at Harvard and once served on one of its oversight boards. A consistent theme of his was that educated elites must lead befuddled masses because the former had more information and insight than the latter.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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