To the Editor:
“Bravo” for Mr. Miller. Mr. Warshow’s review of The Crucible in the March issue of COMMENTARY has quite convinced me of the excellence of the play. Since the reviewer’s intent was obviously quite the opposite I should perhaps explain my paradoxical reaction. . . .
From Mr. Warshow’s review I get the distinct impression that The Crucible succeeds in illustrating clearly that when a community is ridden by fear: (1) relatively immoral individuals can and will use this fear to further personal ends; (2) “paranoiac” individuals, otherwise the object of ridicule, come to be believed; (3) individuals who shift from one extreme to another sometimes view all those less extreme than themselves as belonging to the extreme to which they originally adhered.
For even a hard-headed “revisionist” liberal to deny the applicability of these propositions to the American scene today seems to me the height of folly. It is true that no one has been imprisoned or executed unjustly, but this does not vitiate the comparison, or mitigate the danger. (My God, how many irrelevancies must Mr. Warshow include!)
I say all this, incidentally, without: (1) doubting the guilt of either Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs; (2) doubting that many liberal intellectuals failed us in the 30’s and 40’s, and that many Communists succeeded in hiding behind the cloak of liberalism during that period; (3) doubting the danger of Communist subversion; (4) doubting that the Soviet Union is monstrously regressive.
To the Editor:
I read with some distress Robert Warshow’s article (“The Liberal Conscience in ‘The Crucible’ ”) in the March COMMENTARY. According to Warshow’s definition of civil rights, nothing is a civil rights question unless it is brought up in a “test case” context. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Salem persecutions were civil rights matters because defendants were accused of ex post facto crimes (within the jurisprudence of Puritan New England, no one had ever been hanged for witchcraft before Salem, nor was there any crime of “witchcraft” on the law books). . . .
Warshow criticizes Arthur Miller for using archetypes and for not creating real characters. This is valid, but earlier in his piece he places Melville at the head of the New England writer class; no one has ever accused Melville of creating “real” characters. Warshow accuses Miller of escaping into another era in order to be free from the charge of defending Alger Hiss. However, Hawthorne, whom he rightfully praises so highly, did just that in his masterwork, The Scarlet Letter, or has Warshow forgotten? Furthermore, one has to twist The Crucible beyond all recognition to read into it a defense of Hiss. The Proctors, after all, are innocent.
What I find most meretricious in Warshow’s article is his lumping of all those who are disturbed by McCarthy’s antics into the class of Communist dupes (at best) or rogues (more probably so). I find this as a matter of fact to have become the general attitude of many COMMENTARY contributors (Kristol, Hook, Warshow, offhand).