Letters from Readers
TO THE EDITOR:
In "The Moral Meaning of Genetic Technology" [September], Leon R. Kass recognizes the enormous potential of genetic technology to alleviate human suffering and so will not condemn it--but neither will he endorse it. His worry is that it portends some fundamental change in man's view of himself and his power of self-transformation. He fails to show, however, that such a change is implicit in the new technology.
Indeed, our rapidly advancing genetic technology differs merely in degree from knowledge and practices that have existed for millennia. Does Mr. Kass believe that his grandchildren should feel diminished as human beings because he can conclude, based on his own family and racial history, that they are infinitely more likely to become professors at the University of Chicago than power forwards for the Chicago Bulls? If not, then how will more specific chemical knowledge of the base pairs that comprise their genes substantially narrow their view of life's possibilities?
Does Mr. Kass lament the power that is already at his disposal for shaping the genes of his offspring? After all, it did not require Crick and Watson's discovery of the double helix for human beings to understand that the characteristics we value in our offspring--health, beauty, intelligence--are profoundly affected by our choice of mate. If the moral issue is the propriety of exercising control over the likely characteristics of our progeny, then such concern should rest more squarely on the conscious choice of mates than on some limited prospect for genetic manipulation.
TO THE EDITOR:
It is hard to understand how a trained physician like Leon R. Kass could argue that ordinary medical practice "treats only existing individuals, and it treats them only remedially." What about preventive medicine, prenatal care, and genetic counseling, which are not remedial, and affect future generations?
As for Mr. Kass's referring to a child with spina bifida as "intelligent and otherwise normal," this is disingenuous. Children with severe forms of the disease have paralysis and deformities of the legs, recurrent ur inary-tract infections, meningitis, and generally miserable lives. Far from strengthening Mr. Kass's argument, such children demonstrate the need for genetic research.
LAWRENCE I. BONCHEK, M.D.
TO THE EDITOR:
What has happened to Leon R. Kass's optimism? In The Ethics of Human Cloning, the book he recently co-authored, he observed that we naturally recoil from the notion that the technology made famous by Dolly the lamb would be applied to people. He seemed confident that this instinct, which he called "the wisdom of repugnance," was potent enough to prevail against "rational" arguments in favor of human cloning.
Now, as we confront the undesirable byproducts of future genetic technologies, Mr. Kass seems less sure of our ability, or even our desire, to raise moral objections. He concludes his article by warning that unless we mobilize the courage to look foursquare at the full human meaning of our new enterprise in biogenetic technology and engineering, we are doomed to become its creatures if not its slaves.
Mr. Kass need not worry so much. The "wisdom of repugnance" is not dead, despite reports in the media of its seeming demise. Stories about infertile couples enthusiastically embracing reproductive technologies--particularly in-vitro fertilization and selective pregnancy reduction--may give the impression that these methods are universally accepted. They are not. We seldom get to hear from the many infertile couples who object on moral grounds to even these relatively low-tech interventions.
ROBERT P. LINDEMAN, M.D.
TO THE EDITOR:
Leon R. Kass lays out with shattering clarity the threat that genetic technology poses to man's sense of freedom and dignity. I, too, fervently hope that "the technological way of approaching both the world and human life" will be "brought under intellectual, spiritual, moral, and political rule," though I am none too sanguine.
I disagree, however, with Mr. Kass's claim that "reductionism, materialism, and determinism," considered "as philosophies," have seemingly been "vindicated by scientific advance." Bio logists may think this is so, believing, as he writes, that "man is just a collection of molecules . . . a freakish speck of mind in a mindless universe," but they do not really have the slightest idea how thoughts and feelings could arise from electrochemical brain processes. The origins of mind and consciousness and their interplay are still essentially a mystery.
TO THE EDITOR:
As one reads Leon Kass's "The Moral Meaning of Genetic Technology," the specter of Hitler's genetic-purification program appears. Of the several contributions Mr. Kass makes, it seem to me that two are most important: first, it is the benign and well-intentioned genetic scientist, along with his legislative and bureaucratic cohorts, from whom we, in our liberal society, have the most to fear; second, that genetic engineering is qualitatively different from all previous technological advances, and that the fear of this technology cannot be compared to obscurantist opposition to earlier advances.
Mr. Kass's position is of moral importance, but his argument raises some questions. For instance, he entitles one of his sections "Playing God," but we humans are not capable of playing God. In the sense Mr. Kass intends, however, human beings have always played God. Both military and civilian hospitals triage emergency patients. Young patients are more apt to receive organ transplants than elderly patients. Capital offenders are judged unworthy of life. Soldiers shoot the enemy. Life-and-death decisions, and decisions with destructive or constructive implications for society and human well-being, are indeed Godlike, but that simply means they should be topics for moral and ethical debate.
Yes, the destructive consequences of genetic technology are frightening to contemplate, but it also has a potential for good--and that is pleasant to contemplate.
TO THE EDITOR:
Technological determinists tell us that there is no way to slow the genetic-engineering juggernaut. If Leon R. Kass's reflections do not cause us to pause at least momentarily, nothing will.
C. BEN MITCHELL
LEON R. KASS writes:
The point of my essay was to articulate and defend the ambivalences and anxieties people feel about the coming power to manipulate the human genome. I sought to show that these concerns are not the product of ignorance, superstition, or a lack of scientific knowledge. Though they disagree with this or that point, none of my correspondents has challenged my major conclusions or argued that the coming of genetic technology should be regarded as business as usual.
Lloyd Cohen comes closest to saying that genetic technology differs only in degree from practices "that have existed for millennia." He pretends to see no difference between the indirect genetic effects of mate selection, where human partners are selected for reasons different from stud farming and where, in any case, chance still rules in every fertilization, and deliberate, direct genetic engineering to produce offspring with precise biological capacities. He pretends to recognize no difference between seeing children as a gift that we are duty-bound to humanize through speech and example in light of the good, and seeing children as a product whose qualities we determine by manipulating their bodies, consulting only our own subjective prejudices. I accept fully the heritable implications of choosing a spouse. But when I found a woman with whom to make a life and who might be a worthy mo ther of our children, I paid attention to her character, her tastes, and the things she esteemed and aspired to in life, not merely some morally neutral genetically determined capacity. Mr. Cohen has, perhaps unknowingly, already bought the reductionist view of life, marriage, and child-rearing.
Notwithstanding Lawrence I. Bonchek's useful reminder about preventive medicine, prenatal care, and genetic counseling, I stick to my claim that ordinary medical practice focuses on remedying the ills of existing individuals who bring themselves to the physician, "seeking to correct deviations from a more or less stable norm of health," in contrast to genetic engineering that will be able to alter in advance specific future individuals. Prenatal care, while not remedial, serves an existing (albeit invisible) individual, the intrauterine human being. Preventive measures in ordinary medical practice, e.g., in the form of immunizations, likewise treat the individual patient--not some future, as-yet-hypothetical child-to-be. Both of these practices also presuppose and serve an existing standard of health and fitness.
In contrast, genetic engineering, when fully developed, will be able to go to work on the next generation prior to conception, through modification of egg and sperm. And it holds out promise of altered human capacities, hence new and unstable norms of health. Genetic counseling, which is, strictly speaking, an illegal alien in the medical polity, already shows the way to these future and disturbing novelties. Who exactly is the patient and the beneficiary of genetic counseling? And what is its goal? In today's prenatal diagnosis, followed by abortion, we have the one branch of preventive "medicine" in which disease is prevented by eliminating the patient. Should intrauterine gene therapy become feasible, the matter will be clarified and the therapeutic medical model will again prevail. But what about interventions to "enhance" the product? How will this be medicine? (By the way, Dr. Bonchek, the child with spina bifida in the case I cited was in fact otherwise normal.)
Robert P. Lindeman mistakes my vigorous defense of "the wisdom of repugnance" for optimism that it can prevail against the various technocratic arguments and socioeconomic pressures to practice human cloning. But whatever the efficacy of revulsion in the debate about cloning, the case of genetic technology is different. Here we have a technology that begins by promising cures for specific genetic diseases in specific individuals, and which only later may go on to perform its disquieting eugenic feats. In a culture that already allows people to sell their "eugenic" eggs on the Internet, revulsion alone will not find and keep the boundaries Dr. Lindeman and I would like to preserve.
I, of course, share Michael Kellman's judgment about the inadequacy of materialist explanations of life, not only about mind and consciousness but even about such lowly matters as nutrition and growth (see my book The Hungry Soul). One cannot understand even animals without notions of form, wholeness, awareness, appetite, and goal-directed action--none of them reducible to matter-in-motion or even to DNA. But the materialism of science, useful as a heuristic hypothesis, is increasingly being peddled as the true account of human life by a new breed of bioprophets, citing as evidence the powers obtainable on the basis of just such reductive approaches to life. Many laymen, ignorant of any defensible scientific alternative to materialism, are swallowing and regurgitating these shallow soulless doctrines, because, as I said, "they seem to be vindicated by scientific advance." The result is likely to be serious damage to human self-understanding and the subversion of all high-minded views of the good life.
Norman Siefferman has a point when he likens human willingness selectively to take life to "playing God." But almost all the cases he cites are justified either by sad necessity (triage, when not all can be saved, and war, when self-preservation is at stake) or by cause (retribution for murder). But these destructive acts are no precedent for the Godlike scientific creation of human life, whose "goodness" will be measured only according to the unlimited subjective will of its human creators. Such powers of "playing God" are surely cause not only for moral and ethical debate but also for worry and concern.
I thank C. Ben Mitchell for his generous words.
TO THE EDITOR:
In "Reds" [October], Joshua Muravchik's comments on the persistence of a certain bien-pensant attitude toward Communism in America fall strangely on European ears. The Americans, who have been ahead of Europe in so many ways, have shown a remarkable tardiness in understanding what Communism really was and, in a few parts of the world, still is.
France is far ahead of America in this respect, with the recent publication of two major works that analyze in detail the peculiar horrors of Communism, not just in Europe but all over the world. Le Livre Noir du Communisme, published two years ago in Paris and only now coming out in English in the United States, draws a direct parallel between Communism and Nazism in political methods and effect, calculating the body count of Communism at something between 85 and 100 million. Another book, Rouge Brun, by the distinguished scholar and historian Thierry Wolton, appeared in September. It traces in great detail the collaboration, political friendship, and mutual admiration between followers of Nazism and Communism.
Curiously, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the illusion persists, not only in American universities but in respect able British intellectual circles, that Communism was and is somehow morally superior to Nazism, rather than its left-wing mirror image.
TO THE EDITOR:
Joshua Muravchik, in his excellent survey of Communism, makes it clear that the issue involving Alger Hiss, Laurence Duggan, Harry Dexter White, et al. is no longer whether or not they were guilty. The question now is why were persons of such intellectual distinction and unquestionable idealism so mistakenly captivated by the notion that collectivism was the road to utopia?
But Hiss, Duggan, and the others were--and are--not alone. Socialism has an irresistible hold on the minds of intellectuals in the literary world, the arts, journalism, and academia. This continues despite theoretical analyses destroying the intellectual underpinnings of socialism and a century of establishing that the endgame of socialism is not utopia but totalitarianism, poverty, and terror.
Raymond Aron, the eminent French political philosopher, has taken the Marxist phrase "religion is the opiate of the masses" and turned it around into "socialism is the opiate of the intellectuals." In doing so, has not Aron captured the major issue of modern times?
TO THE EDITOR:
The long-overdue honoring of Elia Kazan at this year's Academy Awards has brought out the usual howling of the historical revisionists who continue to exercise all too much influence in the academy, the media, and the film industry.
By now, I would have expected that with the collapse of the Soviet empire and its murderous record revealed for anyone with eyes to see, some of our liberal "thinkers" would have had second thoughts about their former political orientation, and perhaps might even have been tempted to public expressions of mea culpa. But the concept of shame seems alien to them. And so the battle goes on. This time Richard Dreyfuss and his squad of Hollywood "freedom fighters" are pecking away at one of filmdom's true artists. But perhaps there is some solace after all. Long after their shrill little voices are stilled, the world will continue to be thrilled by the thunder of Viva Zapata!, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and East of Eden. Belated congratulations and well done, Gadge! And thank you, Joshua Muravchik.
JOSHUA MURAVCHIK writes:
I find Herb Greer's letter interesting, but I am not content with its two key formulations. The entire West has a way to go in coming to grips with the record of Communism, but I do not believe that America trails France in this regard. I would have said that Le Livre Noir made far more of a sensation in France than in the U.S. because it came as a revelation there, whereas its gravamen had been generally recognized and accepted here at least since the publication of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. The lingering debate in this country is less about the assessment of Communism than about the assessment of those who fought against it and those who apologized for it. One would think, too, that a thorough reckoning with the experience of Communism would lead to vigilance toward contemporary Communist regimes or regimes that bear a likeness to Communism. But with respect to China, Cuba, Iraq, Serbia, Iran, and others, France is scarcely ahead of the United States in drawing this inference.
While I accept the point that Communism was no better than Nazism, I would not call it a mirror-image. We must account for the fact that many outstanding individuals of moral probity came out of the Communist movement and contributed to its down fall. This prompted Ignazio Silone's aphorism that history would come down to a struggle between the Communists and the ex-Communists. Yet to my knowledge no one came out of the Nazi movement to become a Sidney Hook or Whittaker Chambers.
This points to the issue raised by Maurice Rosenfield about the infernal appeal of collectivism to the intellectuals, a phenomenon that needs further explanation. The weakness in Aron's formula is that it leaves us wondering why the intellectuals need an opiate. The proletariat, according to Marx, needed sedation against its misery. The intellectuals have no similar need. To them the collectivist fantasy has been less a sedative than a stimulant, not heroin but cocaine.
My thanks to Nathan Shuster for his comments.
TO THE EDITOR:
Irwin M. Stelzer is to be congratulated on a remarkable review of a remarkable book: George J. Borjas's Heaven's Door: Immigration and the American Economy [September]. Borjas's research has led him to astonishing findings: that the immigration wave accidentally unleashed by the 1965 legislation has not benefited Americans in aggregate; that lower skilled workers in particular are being hurt; that the current system's selection process is producing lower-skilled (and overwhelmingly third-world) immigrants; that these immigrants are disproportionately failing and going on welfare; and that Americans are actually paying, through fiscal transfers, for the transformation of their society. Mr. Stelzer's handsome acknowledgment that "many of these findings are now uncontested" is entirely appropriate--but applies only to economists. In public debate, the conventional wisdom still reflects a very different view.
I must gently point out that this unfortunate situation is, in a small way, Mr. Stelzer's fault. In 1995, I published Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, a book that was in large part an explicit popularization of Borjas's work. But at the time, Mr. Stelzer, in the New York Post, brushed aside as a "narrow-minded statistical compendium" the very evidence that he now finds so compelling.
What Mr. Stelzer still has not reckoned with is my discussion in Alien Nation of the level at which immigration should be set. I pointed out that because Americans of all races are now reproducing just at replacement level, the demographic impact of immigration is much greater than it was during the last great wave from 1890 to 1920, when the native-born population was still growing rapidly. Combined with the system's paradoxical selection process, which has favored the third world and choked off Europe, this means that the racial balance in the U.S. is rapidly shifting. Whites have gone from being about 90 percent of the population in 1960 to 75 percent in 1990, and are projected to go below 50 percent in the middle of the 21st century.
Ethnic identity and partisan affiliation are closely correlated in American politics, changing only slowly if at all. Edwin S. Rubenstein and I have shown that, if this racial shift continues, the Republican party can reasonably hope to win just two more Presidential elections. After 2008, Republicans will go decisively into a minority. After 2025 or so, even a sweep of Reagan esque proportions among whites will not outweigh the effect of imported Democrats.
The inexorable logic of the situation is that, if the present U.S. political order is to survive, immigration must be made proportionate to the racial groups already here, or it must be reduced to a low enough level that it will not disturb the racial balance. I think the latter is more practical. I await enlightenment from Mr. Stelzer--but he had better not take another four years.
IRWIN M. STELZER writes:
Peter Brimelow fears immigrants. They are different from "us"--different in color ("visible minorities," to use the term Mr. Brimelow prefers in his book, Alien Nation), skills, and political outlook. Indeed, they will (shock, horror), he says in his letter, likely vote for Democrats, sending "Republicans . . . decisively into the minority." So he finds comfort in George J. Borjas's book, Heaven's Door, and in my generally favorable review of it, which he takes to be a recanting of positions I have taken in my columns for the New York Post. Alas, Mr. Brimelow still does not get it.
The virtues of Borjas's book are two: he lays out the facts that should guide the debate about immigration policy; and he suggests a rational framework within which to analyze those facts. He also describes some of the problems created by the newer wave of immigrants, lovingly repeated by Mr. Brimelow in his letter--and, I might add, laid out with care in my several New York Post pieces on the subject.
But social policy is not made merely by tabulating negatives. It is made by weighing advantages against disadvantages: a decision to pay down the national debt has the disadvantage of foreclosing a tax cut but the advantage of stimulating economic growth by lowering interest rates; a decision to open American markets to the products of low-wage countries threatens the jobs of some workers but enriches some consumers. To decide which policy is best for America requires balancing the costs against the benefits.
So too with immigration policy. To close "Heaven's Door"--which, by the way, Borjas does not suggest we should do--would relieve us of some burdens, most notably the welfare costs associated with the newer immigrants. But it would also deny us access to some of the advantages that new immigrants bring with them--no need here to recount the successes of Asian immigrants.
Since Mr. Brimelow repeats some of the costs associated with our new immigrants, by way of balance it is worth pointing out that the National Research Council has found that there appears to be no relationship between immigrant concentrations and local crime rates; that new immigrants are more likely than the average native to be living in family households; and that intermarriage seems likely to blur ethnic and social distinctions, hastening the assimilation of current immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
In his letter, Mr. Brimelow repeats his suggestion in Alien Nation that immigration "be made proportionate to the racial groups already here," an updated version of the argument once used to restrict immigration from Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe. This is either a mere statement of prejudice, or, more likely, a cop-out: a confession of an inability to gain acceptance for policies that maximize the benefits of immigration and minimize its costs.
Before we sign on to the Brimelow program and deny ourselves the injections of yeastiness and spice that have historically forced natives who are comfortable with the status quo to compete with newcomers, we should consider less costly measures. Where would America be if it were now forced to rely only on its old-line Wasp population for the drive and skills needed to compete in a global economy? We would be in the hands of the largely Wasp, perk-laden corpocrats who so mismanaged America's major companies as almost to bring the economy to ruin before being saved by Michael Milken and his gang of sons-of-immigrants corporate raiders.
We would also be facing the inflationary pressure of a much tighter labor market than now exists. Estimates are that some 38 percent of the 12.7 million new jobs created in America in this decade have been filled by immigrants. Nearly one-third of the start-up companies in high-tech Silicon Valley are headed by Chinese or Indian immigrants.
To throw away these advantages in pursuit of some Brimelow-ordained "racial balance" seems to me less desirable than to develop policies that retain the benefits of a generous immigration policy while minimizing the costs of keeping "Heaven's Door" open: welcome those who come here seeking a hand up, not a hand-out; deny citizenship to those who are not fluent in our language and familiar with our history; abandon the ideology of multiculturalism in favor of good old-fashioned assimilation.
I hope this provides Mr. Brimelow with the "enlightenment" he says he seeks from me. But I suspect it will not. I regret that I simply do not possess a torch powerful enough to brighten the darkness in which he finds himself as he contemplates the future of an America peopled by folks different from himself.
TO THE EDITOR:
"Can Parents Be Trusted?" asks Chester E. Finn, Jr. [September]. By the end of his article he seems to be suggesting they cannot, even though he grants that "many parents" do work hard to rear children soundly. After citing several examples of parental malpractice, he concludes by quoting Francis Fukuyama on the reassertion of traditional norms and hoping that such "transforming power" will change the "minds and hearts of American parents."
Maybe a good pep talk would help those parents who neglect their duties. Unfortunately, it is more likely to be grist for the education industry's mill, because the stock excuse for schools unforgivably failing to teach children to read and write is that they come from rotten homes. And because the article is squarely in the context of the movement toward parental choice, Mr. Finn's thesis is a boon to education monopolists like the teachers' unions as they try to sabotage vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools. They will say, "Nothing will improve with parental choice because parents will not make wise choices."
The real question is: if we don't trust the parents, whom do we trust? Big government? The National Education Association? The experts?
It is true that some parents may not be as savvy as others, but in a free market the word gets around. Feet will follow quality.
CHESTER E. FINN, JR. writes:
Robert Holland is an estimable and tireless advocate for school choice, but I do not think it does his (and my) quest any good to sweep under the rug the degree to which this approach to good education hinges on discerning, well-informed, conscientious, and quality-minded consumers. Insofar as today's parents do not meet that standard, school choice will not work as well as it could. To be sure, some parents' failings can be laid at the doorstep of the public-education monopoly itself, which has disempowered, spurned, and sought to supplant them. Putting parents in the driver's seat will gradually undo that part of the damage. But insofar as parental frailty arises from other sources--cultural meltdown, post-1960's hangovers, family collapse, self-absorption, etc.--the problem cannot be solved by changing only our education-policy arrangements.
Would I, therefore, rather entrust children's fates to Uncle Sam, the NEA, or a coven of ed-school professors? Not for a second. But let us not be Pollyanish about parents, either. Instead, let us face the problem that some of them pose and try to come up with a solution, all the while pressing forward the campaign for school choice. Let me also note that dissatisfaction with contemporary American parents is not confined to me and the teachers' unions. See, for example, Kay Hymowitz's fine new book, Ready or Not, and Tom Loveless's perceptive article, "The Parent Trap," in the fall 1999 issue of the Wilson Quarterly.
TO THE EDITOR:
I write in response to "The Composer and the Commissar" [October], Terry Teachout's attempted defense of Solomon Volkov's Testimony, a book falsely purporting to be the transcribed memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, against the criticisms of various scholars including Laurel Fay and myself.
If Mr. Teachout has actually read my article, "The Opera and the Dictator," from which he quotes, then he knows how flagrantly he has misrepresented my position when he places me among "some older, Left-leaning academics" who "find it inconceivable that Shostakovich could have been anything other than a supporter of a regime with which they themselves sympathized." Nor is there anything in Laurel Fay's published writings, which now include a full-scale biography that Mr. Teachout has evidently seen, to support such an allegation. The product of an unfounded and unimaginative assumption, Mr. Teachout's assertion is nothing but a political innuendo.
To have one's scholarly objections answered in such a way is familiar enough to those of us with first-hand experience of life in the Soviet Union, or with what used to pass there for scholarship. Writers like Mr. Teachout, who ten years after the end of the cold war still seek to establish their credentials on the basis of their "impeccably anti-Communist" attitudes, ought to think twice before they appropriate Stalinist tactics. Let me add that, although in my own case the innuendo was false as well as prejudicial, had it been true it would have been no less a smokescreen. It is the smoke screen behind which Solomon Volkov has been hiding now for twenty years, with the help of accomplices like Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, the authors of Shostakovich Reconsidered, and now Mr. Teachout (who, as he tells us, used to be less gullible).
Mr. Teachout's incomprehension of the scholarly issues surrounding the Volkov publication is well exemplified in one of the points of "evidence" he offers in its support. He writes, "while it is true that Shostakovich's surviving friends and colleagues are not unanimous about the veracity of Testimony, most who have spoken out so far--including Maxim and Galina Shostakovich--believe it to be authentic, in part because the composer had already told them many of the same anecdotes recounted by Volkov." Mr. Teachout uses the terms "veracity" and "authenticity" as if they were interchangeable. But they are entirely separate categories. The one refers to truth or falsity of content, the other to truth or falsity of origin. Scholars are trained to make this distinction: it makes a huge difference.
Laurel Fay's critique, still unanswered by Volkov and answered only glancingly by his apologists, has indeed demolished the book's claim to authenticity. She has found that, with one exception, all the pages Shostakovich signed in attesting to his having read the work attributed to him contain innocuous material, not all of it even of "memoir" character, which had already been published in the Soviet press, reproduced verbatim even down to punctuation and paragraphing. Fay, it should be noted, never asserted outright on this basis that Testimony "contained spurious first-person revelations concocted by Volkov himself," as Mr. Teachout now paraphrases her. Any trained scholar knows better than that. She merely raised the possibility, in a scholarly publication, as a warning to other trained scholars that the contents of the book were not properly authenticated and should be used with extreme care.
Fay may have been incautious in discounting the possibility of total recall on Shostakovich's part. This gave Ho and Feofanov the opportunity to make polemical hay over an irrelevancy. The issue is not whether such material might possibly have been dictated to Volkov by Shostakovich, but rather why it should appear at all in such a book as Testimony purports to be, and why it should always appear precisely where it does--that is, on the signed pages. This issue--the only issue of scholarly relevance--is addressed, sketchily and far from convincingly, in one five-page passage in Ho and Feofanov's book, the remaining 782 pages of which are given over to ad-hominem attacks on their opponents, and to a massive attempt to prove Testimony's veracity through hearsay corroboration of its contents.
But even if the veracity of Testimony's every word were established, that still would not constitute evidence that Shostakovich uttered them to Volkov. A moment's reflection will suffice to confirm that a book purporting to contain memoirs might be authentic-and-true or inauthentic-and-false, the only possibilities Mr. Teachout entertains. But it might also be authentic-and-false, as I have shown the memoirs Igor Stravinsky dictated to Robert Craft largely were, or even inauthentic-and-true. As the sentence already quoted from Mr. Teachout shows, many of the stories in Testimony circulated in oral tradition long before Volkov published them. I heard many of them myself as an exchange student in Moscow in 1971-72. I believed many of them at the time, and I still do. Volkov's book might thus be perfectly true even if Shostakovich himself had nothing to do with it.
But the reality is more complicated than any of the four simplified scenarios I have sketched. In all likelihood Testimony is an amalgam of the authentic and the inauthentic, the veridical and the inveridical. The trouble is, nobody can tell which is which, and no matter how many innuendos Mr. Teachout heaps up, until Volkov comes clean we never will be able to.
Those who wish to believe the book will always be able to believe it (most likely selectively) on the promptings of their gut. That is their inalienable right. But scholars have an obligation not to repeat what they believe unless they have evidence to support it beyond its "ring of truth," which can only exist in the ear of the beholder. As Laurel Fay established almost two decades ago, such evidence Testimony cannot provide. Had Volkov been content to publish a book about Shostakovich based in part on interviews, rather than a book purporting to be actually if indirectly authored by Shostakovich, it would never have become a best-seller, would never have led to two decades' debate, and would never have, in Mr. Teach out's words, "promised to rewrite the history of modern Russian music."
Such ambitious claims must be seriously tested. When such tests are flunked, it smacks of fraud. It can only be the fraught political atmosphere that continues to swirl around Shostakovich's legacy, at least in minds like Mr. Teachout's, that would induce an otherwise intelligent critic in this one case to forswear, and then denounce, the process of scholarly testing.
RICHARD F. TARUSKIN
TERRY TEACHOUT writes:
It is a novel experience for me to stand accused of engaging in "Stalinist tactics." On the other hand, I cannot imagine being surprised by anything Richard F. Taruskin might possibly say about me, however preposterous. Readers of Commentary may not recognize Mr. Taruskin's stock rhetorical strategies--the sky-high dudgeon, the sneering, arrogant bluster, the disingenuous distortions of inconvenient fact--but writers on musical subjects who are familiar with his work will find his letter characteristic. He is, unlikely as it may seem, one of America's outstanding musicologists; I have profited on numerous occasions from his profound insights into Russian music, and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. Alas, those who dare to take issue with his sometimes highly idiosyncratic opinions are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of the sort of ad-hominem abuse he habitually decries (and not infrequently imagines) in others. It is a pity that the peculiarities of his temperament have apparently rendered him incapable of participating in civilized and intellectually honest debate.
Unlike Mr. Taruskin, I do not deal in innuendos. So far as I know, I have read everything he has written about Dmitri Shostakovich, and I know very well that Mr. Taruskin is not now and never has been a defender of the Soviet regime. As is self-evident from its context, my remark about "some older, Left-leaning academics" did not refer either to him or Laurel Fay (about whose age and political beliefs I have no information), but to other scholarly participants in the debate over the authenticity of Testimony. Nor, as should also be obvious, was I seeking to "establish my credentials" on the basis of my own "impeccably anti-Communist" attitudes: I used the latter phrase to describe the Russian Review, the journal in which Fay published her original article on Testimony two decades ago.
As for Mr. Taruskin's disingenuousness, let me begin with the following statement: "Fay, it should be noted, never asserted outright . . . that Testimony 'contained spurious first-person revelations concocted by Volkov himself,' as Mr. Teachout now paraphrases her." Contrary to what Mr. Taruskin implies, my paraphrase was in no way deceptive. Fay wrote "Shostakovich Versus Volkov: Whose 'Testimony'?" precisely in order to cast doubt on the authenticity of Solomon Volkov's book, and not merely because of its alleged plagiarism from Shostakovich's published writings but on various other grounds as well, none of which Mr. Taruskin mentions in his letter (and all of which are addressed in exhaustive detail in Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov's Shostakovich Reconsidered). Of course, Fay never directly asserted the inauthenticity of Testimony in her article: that is not how one does such things. She merely suggested it, unmistakably and damningly.
It is also disingenuous of Mr. Taruskin to dismiss as "sketchy," "glancing," and "far from convincing" the detailed discussion by Ho and Feofanov of what he claims to be "the only issue of scholarly relevance" in the matter of Testimony. Ho and Feofanov devoted 22 pages of Shosta kovich Reconsidered--not five, as Mr. Taruskin says--to Volkov's alleged plagiarism, and I found their analysis of the passages in question to be completely convincing, so much so that I felt obliged to retract in print my own earlier statement of support for Fay.
To be sure, I am not an academic, nor do I speak or read Russian. My article on Shostakovich Reconsidered was a piece of critical journalism, nothing more. But I know a planted axiom when I see one, and Mr. Taruskin's letter rests on one: he contends that the problem of the authenticity of Testimony cannot be settled until Volkov "comes clean," presumably meaning that any evidence short of a confession by Volkov of plagiarism is "hearsay," and thus irrelevant. (It should come as no surprise that Mr. Taruskin declined to attend the New York press conference held last February at which Volkov, for the first time ever, publicly answered questions about Testimony from the press and other interested parties.)
In fact--as Mr. Taruskin knows perfectly well, and as my article makes perfectly clear--the only way to establish the authenticity of Testimony is through the use of hearsay evidence. It is true that the manuscript is not in Shostakovich's handwriting, nor did he sign every page (who would have?), and Volkov's assertion that the book is what he says it is proves nothing in and of itself. But anyone who understands the nature of the Soviet regime should recognize that the "process of scholarly testing" to which Mr. Taruskin pays ritual homage in his letter is simply not applicable to a book written in secret, under conditions of totalitarian repression and surveillance.
In cases such as these, one must perforce deal in probabilities, and judging by the evidence amassed by Ho and Feofanov and (very briefly) summarized in my article, it seems to me highly probable that Testimony is authentic--that, in other words, Shostakovich and Volkov did indeed have numerous conversations that formed the basis for a first-person memoir ghostwritten by Volkov and subsequently approved by the composer. Whether it is "authentic-and-false" was not my primary concern; I leave that to the consideration of more qualified persons. But surely it is to the point that Testimony is believed to be both authentic and true by a great many people who, unlike Richard Taruskin or Laurel Fay, knew Shostakovich intimately, including his son and daughter.
As it happens, Shostakovich Reconsidered is only partly about Fay's article. The bulk of the book is devoted to an equally detailed refutation of what Ho and Feofanov believe to be gross misrepresentations by Western commentators of key aspects of Shostakovich's life and work. Mr. Taruskin himself comes in for frequent and severe criticism, not least for his oft-quoted remark that the composer was "perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal son"; in his introduction, for example, Vladimir Ashkenazy responds to this fantastic claim by suggesting that "this musicologist . . . simply does not possess enough intelligence" to know better. One can hardly blame Mr. Taruskin for passing over such criticisms in silence, but they suggest that what he has to say about Shostakovich Reconsidered--not to mention my own article--should be viewed with due skepticism.