Since the founding of this journal nearly a century ago, its editors have tried to remain true to the vision of our nation’s founders: to be visionary without seeking utopia, to be progressive without succumbing to doctrine, to be pragmatic without eschewing a passion for ideals. This has often placed us on embattled ground: “to the right of the Left and to the left of the Right”–to borrow an illuminating phrase used by one of the nation’s most imaginative intellectual historians to describe himself.
It is in part for this reason that we pay special homage to that historian, John Patrick Diggins, who died of cancer last week in New York at the age of 73. Although gentle and soft-spoken in his personal demeanor, and refined in his tastes, he boldly embraced intellectual challenge and never shrunk from necessary combat.
I confess that I have not read much of Diggins. I skimmed On Hallowed Ground and The Lost Soul of American Politics and read some of his scathing critiques of the National History Standards. I liked his contarian style and admired his intellectual courage and independent thinking. His writing roars, and sometimes I wish I had the same guts in my own work.
A while ago I blogged on Gordon Wood’s review of On Hallowed Ground. Wood was rough on Diggins, going as far to suggest that he was not an historian.
I was unaware that Diggins, at the time of his death, was writing a biography of Reinhold Niebuhr. Now that is a book I would have looked forward to reading.