Henry Grunwald

It’s Time, Part II

VTR Date: April 22, 1983

Guest: Grunwald, Henry


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Henry Grunwald
Title: “It’s Time” Part II
VTR: 4/22/83

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. My guest last week was the Editor-in-Chief of Time, Incorporate, Henry Anatole Grunwald. And I prevailed upon him to do two programs with me. So if you’ll permit, let me repeat my comments as I began the first show.

One couldn’t have grown to intellectual maturity in America, not at least in those extraordinary decades the 30s, 40s, and 50s, without being a Time watcher, without estimating full well enough, maybe even too well, the important role that Time, the weekly newsmagazine, played in commenting on and thus, in a very real sense, helping to create our national agenda, our national mood. Loose thinking some of us considered it. Largely we who naively were made most uncomfortable by what some thought of as the Machiavellian influence exercised by Time’s master, Henry Luce, in his statement of, and thus perhaps, then, the realization of his ideal of the American century.

Well, we have no Henry Luce to scapegoat anymore. Nor does Time seem so ominously to dominate America’s cultural landscape anymore. But those who would now underestimate the power to Time magazine and Newsweek too, its chief rival, would do well to consider that both, now perhaps more than ever before, are there at the hub of the communications empires. Empires whose influence has to be counted mightily in any realistic estimation of who we are as a people and how we come to think about what we think about the world around us. Besides, if print now looms less large today, Time, Incorporated has become evermore the national presence in electronic communications too. And at its apex is my guest today, as last week.

Mr. Grunwald, thank you for joining me today once again. I should reflect in my comments to the audience too that of course we’re not talking about your suzerainty over simply Time magazine but your editorial responsibilities for the other print outputs of Time, Incorporated. How many magazines are there now?

Grunwald: Seven at present, soon to be eight.

Heffner: Soon to be eight. What’s that one going to be?

Grunwald: That’s going to be TV Cable.

Hefner: So you are, you have succumbed to the lure of this medium.

Grunwald: Well, I think we are, we are very happy to be associated with that medium. It’s a very important one. And we believe that it will and can exist, coexist with print very successfully, and vice versa.

Heffner: Was there a time, perhaps, in the past when you print people didn’t quite feel that way?

Grunwald: Yes, I’m sure there was. I think perhaps as a corporation we were a touch late getting into television, but I think we have more than made up for our slow start.

Heffner: Because of the direction you think this country is taking?

Grunwald: Well, I think because of the directions that communications is taking, yes.

Heffner: You know, talking about the directions of this, of this country, I, I was interested that, when Jan Ellis, who researches The Open Mind for me worked on Henry Grunwald, she came up with the conclusion that here was a most optimistic person whose love affair with America really had to do with his almost Horatio Alger-like approach to a nation that had citizens who with luck and pluck could always make it. And we talked about that, and we talked about your various devotions to the American way, but then I came across in this fascinating volume of yours from some time back, this book on Winston Churchill done with the American Heritage magazine and UPI. I came upon, opposite a picture of that great man, a statement that you made, “Winston Churchill was perhaps the last great man of the west, the west as we’d known it”, and somehow or other, a light went on. And went off. And i wondered whether this was the same editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. who was quite so much the optimist, quite as buoyant as what America, as the symbol of the west, meant and could be.

Grunwald: Well, first of all, I’m not quite sure that I would write that today, and if there ever should be a collection of my, my written works, which is most unlikely, I might have second thoughts about that. However, what I meant at the time was not so much that the west as a whole is declining or collapsing in a Spenglerian sense, but that a certain phase of the west, the climax of which or the end of which really was marked by World War I, had come to an end. And I think that hardly needs further illustration. It’s a statement that has been made many times and which is fairly obvious. It came to an end politically in the sense of Europe as the preeminent power in the world. It came to an end economically and industrially because we moved from one kind of industrial revolution into a very different one. And of course I think it became, it came to an end intellectually. I think Churchill was one of those people who could still, barely, but still grasp, not everything there was to know – obviously that was impossible – but who could get a, who did have a sense of almost universal knowledge and mastery. I think that has, that has changed. That is no longer possible. And I think that’s what I had in mind when I wrote that sentence. I said World War I advisedly. I know of course that we’re talking World War II here. But World War II was in a sense an extension of World War I.

Heffner: I had the feeling you weren’t talking so much about a Renaissance man and the age of the Renaissance in the past, but about the age of the enlightenment. I had the feeling that perhaps your tributes to the nature of this country were tributes to the 18th and 19th centuries and not to the 20th and certainly not to the 21st. Unfair?

Grunwald: Not entirely unfair, because certainly this country was shaped by, by the enlightenment, was born of the enlightenment in many ways. The 19th century, however, is quite a different, is quite a different period in history generally, and in our history. We at that point moved away from our beginnings and far beyond our beginnings. The enlightenment, incidentally, is not an unmixed, was not an unmixed blessing.

Heffner: What do you mean?

Grunwald: Well, it gave us, it gave us this country, it gave us a tremendous burst of reason, of hope, and of freedom. But, like, in every other situation, freedom is not an unmixed blessing. Freedom imposes certain pains, certain difficulties. And I think we are, if anything, in this country – and I’ve written this along with my warmer and more pious tributes – if anything in this country we are not quite aware of the cost that must be paid for freedom. We always think that, or we very often think that we can be free but at the same time have the benefits of order and discipline and so on. We get, quite properly, indignant about crime, or we get, quire properly, indignant about disorder of every sort. On the other hand, we want the conditions that at least to some extent make these disorders possible because w don’t really want to live in a society that is very harshly disciplined and so on. So what, all I’m saying is that we’re not quite clear about the cost accounting, you might say, of freedom.

Heffner: Of course you’ve said, and you’ve said it and written it so eloquently, that what we do is manage to forget that what we praise so much is not our beauty, it’s not our majestic skies or land, but it is the power of an idea, and that it is the power really of that idea of freedom. And now you say we, we, we don’t, we don’t balance. We don’t see what has to go along with freedom.

Grunwald: Well, I think, I think freedom is the guiding, the guiding principle. I think really far more so than in any other country that I can, that I can think of. And our patriotism is in many ways an almost ideological patriotism. We are not as attached as some of the European countries to soil and to history because we are literally a new country. We are a country of immigrants. We are a mobile country, we move about. And much as we may love the coast of Maine or the plains, or California, we are more interested, I think more concerned, with, with America as an idea. It’s always been that way. And I think that is our genius. And that is what makes America so very special. But it is not really a contradiction to say that while we are, while the, the, the guiding genius of this country is freedom, that that very freedom also creates problems which we, which we do not always understand or do not always want to face up to.

Heffner: Mr. Grunwald, you talk about “we”. Who are we?

Grunwald: Well, I think when I say “we”, I mean in this particular instance “we Americans”.

Heffner: Just we Americans, a quarter of a billion, almost a quarter of a billion strong?

Grunwald: Well, you caught me out on a, in a, in a journalistic bad habit. We do, we, now we journalists, and we writers or commentators or whatever, do tend to generalize a little bit. And it is of course, you’re quite right it is really not possible to talk about an entire country in a few, in a few phrases and to subsume an, my entire population in the word “we”. Nonetheless, I think there are, there are dominant characteristics in most countries. And I think it is possible without too much distortion to kind of try to grab them.

Heffner: But if there is such a thing as a climate of opinion, that opinion can be more widespread at one time than at another, or we may find that our society is perhaps being dichotomized into “we”, those persons who write, who intellectualize, perhaps those who vote, because there are not so many of us who vote, and the great unwashed. And I wondered if you would comment on that, and that’s what I meant by “who are ‘we’”?

Grunwald: Who are the great unwashed? You mean those who don’t vote or, or…

Heffner: Those who vote less. Those who perhaps conceptualize and intellectualize and put themselves on top of current issues less.

Grunwald: Well, there is in every, in every civilization, in every society a, a distinction or, as you say, a dichotomy between people who manipulate ideas, who work with ideas, who teach, who write and so on, and those others who are not, don’t’ have too, too much patience, time, or inclination to deal with these things. I would argue that in this country that dichotomy is smaller, as a matter of fact, that in most, more traditional countries.

Heffner: May I follow it up though with the question as to whether you think that differential or that dichotomy, which you say is smaller, has been smaller, is growing, diminishing further? Which, which direction?

Grunwald: I think, I think if anything it is diminishing further.

Heffner: Really?

Grunwald: Yeah.

Heffner: You think more and more people are, proportionately, are participating intellectually?

Grunwald: I think so. And, of course, this is an assertion that I cannot prove. And if, if voting figures are, were to be an indicator of that then I’m proven wrong, because we all know that petition, participation for voting is lamentably small, but I think that the knowledge of what goes on, if you will, in a kind of very broad way, is growing. There are more people who are involved, however peripherally or however fitfully.

Heffner: Is it possible that the more people who are involved in terms of knowledge, peripherally, the less widespread is real understanding of the real issues of our time?

Grunwald: I don’t think the two are mutual, necessarily connected.

Heffner: Not necessarily.

Grunwald: I think, I think real understand, real understanding of the issues of our time is very difficult because the issues are more complex than they used to be without question. They are more complex than they were, for instance, in Mr. Churchill’s day. So I think that’s, I would have to concede that that’s quite true. And a little knowledge, as we know, is a dangerous thing, and so on. But, you know, you cannot turn everybody into an expert. And I repeat, I think that people quite seriously make a stab at understanding. They try very hard. I hope this doesn’t sound patronizing. I try very hard. I have a difficult time sometimes understanding the, or trying to understand the issues of the day. I, I sense that people really, really want to understand and make an effort to do so. And I would cite without, I hope without immodesty, the success of a magazine like Time or many of our other magazines or our, our, our competitors. These things don’t survive because they, they titillate. Apparently they survive because people seriously want to understand.

Heffner: You know, I’ve, I’ve, before Walter Cronkite left his nightly news broadcast I used to have a perfect whipping boy in my class. I’d say, “And last night Walter Cronkite said, ‘And that’s the way it is, March 15th, 19-whatever-it-was’”. And of course that isn’t the way it was. And you’re thinking that you now know the way it was or is by watching Walter Cronkite or by reading Time magazine or People magazine or Fortune or whatever it might be is not just deceptive, but is lulling us into thinking we have more command over our environment than we really do. And I wonder whether that seems off-base to you.

Grunwald: All, would you suggest that by not reading Time or not watching the evening news we will have more command?

Heffner: We’re not debating or arguing; we’re really examining…

Grunwald: (Laughter)

Heffner: …and I wondered how you felt about that. Of course not. Of course I, my answer would be, “No”. The question is, are we – you talked about, or I raised the question about dichotomization. You said there’s less here. And I wondered whether we might not becoming more and more a nation of the culturally rich fewer in number and the culturally impoverished, basically culturally informationally impoverished greater, in greater numbers.

Grunwald: Well, I know the, I know the fear, and it is probably not an unreasonable fear, which actually, I think, has more to do with the, the sudden explosion of the computer than let’s say with, with newsmagazines or books or even the evening news on television. I think the computer is part of a new world, and the people who understand the computer and know how to manipulate it or read it or get information out of it are different from those of us, and I include myself, who can’t quite do that. Although I’ve promised myself that i will learn any day now. Nonetheless, we’ve made a tremendous stride. Far more so than any other country. Kids in kindergarten know about computers. So if there is going to be an information elite, I would like to think it’s going to be a pretty damned big elite.

Heffner: You know, years ago, on The Open Mind, Max Lerner was my guest, and at some point we were talking about that question that a young reporter had put to Franklin D. Roosevelt at a press conference: “Mr. president, are you a socialist, are you a communist, well, what are you”? “I’m a Democrat and a Christian”, he said. I asked Max that, “Well, what are you?” And he said, “I’m a possibilist.”

Grunwald: (Laughter)

Heffner: And as I read Henry Grunwald, I must say, I thought, “Here is a possibilist. A man who basically believes that we can accomplish most of what we want or need to do in this country.” Is that fair?

Grunwald: I, I think first of all that we believe this as Americans, that that is our, our characteristic, our national characteristic, that we believe things are possible. And I also, I also have a certain degree of skepticism about, not about America, but about, if you will, human nature and, and life. And I believe that a lot, certain things are not possible. And that our frustration, which bursts out frequently in different ways, has to do with the contrast between what we believe, namely everything is possible, and the periodic discovery that everything is not possible. I operate in that not altogether narrow space. If you ask me to describe myself in this political spectrum, however, as you asked Max, I would say, “I’m a centrist”, which is a very dull label. But, you know, I get mad in the morning at the far right, and then I get furious in the afternoon at the far left, and so I guess I have to be a centrist.

Heffner: Where does that leave you when it comes to pulling down a lever in the ballot box? Free and private, I know, but still.

Grunwald: Well I’ve, I have voted for Democrats, and I have voted for Republicans. And I expect I’ll go on doing that, depending on the issues, depending on the person, and maybe about depending on my mood too.

Heffner: You’ve said, you’ve written that this demand that we made for doing whatever can be done or doing whatever we want to do has sometimes led Americans to make demands that are unrealizable.

Grunwald: Yes.

Heffner: How has that manifested itself?

Grunwald: Well, I think I alluded to one form of this earlier when I talked about the contradictory demands we make on our society. We like, we want things both ways; we want order and freedom at the same time. That’s one form of this. Not uniquely American, but I think more American, than the, say, European, because Europeans are more accustomed to compromise and so on. I think it also has to do, it also manifests itself in our foreign policy. We have a very hard time letting go of the notion which was really developed only after World War II that we were the world’s preeminent power, and that we really in a sense were responsible for everything. If there was a revolution in a part of Africa, we were either responsible for it or it hurt us o damaged us in certain ways and we felt we’d lost Ghana or whatever we may have lost, as we thought once that we’d lost China. This, this sense of universal power and responsibility I said was relatively, came from a relatively short period after World War II, obviously could not be maintained. And we’re now struggling to find a new stance in the world which is less than total power, obviously, but also more than sort of isolationism or even, if you will, enlightened isolationism, the kind of post-Vietnam syndrome where we are what many people, especially liberals, fear we mustn’t do anything or intervene anywhere. We have not yet worked out that balance.

Heffner: that, those few years, that feeling about the American century, that was not to be laid at the doorstep of Time magazine or of Henry Luce, but they were quite influential on that, weren’t they?

Grunwald: The article on the American century actually appeared in Life magazine, but that’s alright.

Heffner: Okay. Was that the Russell Davenport…

Grunwald: No, it was Luce, it as Luce’s own article on the American century just, I think, just before World War II broke out. But anyway, I’m sorry, I’ve lost the thread.

Heffner: No, you, you…I raised the question and then you corrected me on it because I wanted to know whether I was picking out Time, and you pointed out to me that it wasn’t Time. Whether Luce and the Luce publications had been responsible, to some extent, for this American century notion, and this notion that you said was short-lived of this omnipotence of America?

Grunwald: Well, I think Luce, the phrase “the American century” certainly was immensely influential and powerful and came to be put on all sorts of things that perhaps were not originally intended. I also think that it had a very good and beneficial influence in our attitude toward World War II. We forget that this country had to be dragged kicking and screaming into, into intervention in Europe. I would argue that it is still the American century.

Heffner: What do you mean? What do you mean by it?

Grunwald: But I would, but I would define it somewhat differently from, form, from Harry Luce. I think when you look at cultural influences, technical, industrial, scientific influences all over the world, American ideas, American developments are still predominant. And I say this in no boastful way, and I certainly admit that other countries, including the Germans, the Japanese, have beaten us in certain specific areas. But overall, when we look back on this century, it may very well still be described as the American century.

Heffner: And yet you feel – and you’ve written this many times – that the essence of America is an idea, it’s not the mechanization, it is not the industrialization, it is not the financial arrangement that might be made here or there, it is that ideal, has that ideal, the ideal that’s basic to America really been that widespread? Have we exported that?

Grunwald: No, we have not exported that as successfully as one might’ve hoped because it is very difficult to export. It has to sprint, it cannot be implanted in alien cultures or in places that do not, weren’t prepared for it. It has to spring naturally from a certain soil. And it is not possible to export American democracy or for that matter even European, western European democracy, to places that are not prepared for it. I think that’s one of the mistakes we sometimes make in our foreign policy. But even though the American political ideal is something that is difficult to, to export, the underlying thriving, if you will, for progress, for individual freedom, for individual, for self-realization, these are things that you find in a great many places of quite different cultural or political natures. And I’m not saying that they’re, oh, they’re there because we sent them there. They’re there because people, there’s a natural drive I people for freedom and self-realization. But it certainly can’t be denied that we have pushed that, that natural drive, I think, a lot farther than a lot of other civilizations, and I think we have, with all the mistakes we make, we have on the whole helped it in, grow in many places.

Heffner: The last great hope of mankind?

Grunwald: No, I wouldn’t put it quite that way.

Heffner: You wouldn’t say “the last”.

Grunwald: Certainly not the last.

Heffner: Why wouldn’t you? Why would you be reluctant to say that idea perhaps was peculiar to the enlightenment; that idea was peculiar to a certain phase of world history, and that phase has passed us by?

Grunwald: No, I don’t, I don’t accept that because the idea of freedom and individual realization is strong, is older than the enlightenment even. I don’t have to lecture you of all people on Greece and so forth. And i think even in, in periods that we consider quite benighted, for instance, the middle ages, which we tend to misunderstand and denigrate, even there you had a certain regard for freedom. We wouldn’t, perhaps, call it that, but it was a regard for freedom that was very strong. And I don’t think that’s going to die out. We may, we may go through certain very dark periods. We may look at the world, a world in which a majority of regimes undoubtedly are dictatorial, but I just can’t believe and don’t believe that that means that this is the last moment or last period of freedom. I believe the contrary is true.

Heffner: If I were to ask you where is that written, you’d probably say in the genes of mankind.

Grunwald: Yes, that’s what I would say.

Heffner: And if I were to say that this, this exchange between us is going to be taken and put in a time capsule and hundreds of years from now you will be judged in terms, your place in history will be judged in terms of the accuracy of your prophecy, do you really think that that ideal of freedom will be making progress in the years to come?

Grunwald: I think, I really think it will. Now, of course, I could be wrong.

Heffner: No hedging, no hedging.

Grunwald: But I really think it, I really think it will make progress. And I think it will make progress through some of the very forces that we distrust, including mechanization and the computer. I think that potentially the computer has the power to, to free rather than to enslave people.

Heffner: By its potential for material well-being?

Grunwald: By its potential for brain work that could not otherwise be done in, in, in the, in, one lifetime or in the, in less than a generation or ten generations.

Heffner: And you feel freed from the labors that we have invested all during mankind’s past…

Grunwald: Freed, freed from the labors, but also freed from the stop and start. A man dies and he may have written books, and he may have written lectures, but what he has achieved and leaves behind is limited, and the next generation has to start all over again. I think the computer, in a way, will produce greater continuity of knowledge than we have known before.

Heffner: That’s a fascinating point of view which I must admit I haven’t heard expressed before what, why wouldn’t an individual’s greatness die with him? What will the computer do?

Grunwald: I didn’t say that his greatness would not die with him. I think his, his, his original, his powerful original thinking, his inspiration, of course, or not of course, probably, will die with him. On the other hand, it is not beyond, we are not yet, we’re not quite in science fiction when I suggest that your brain, at least to a great extent, could be replicated by a computer, and your brain could continue working after you personally are no longer around.

Heffner: I’m not so sure that would be a sign of progress, Mr. Grunwald.

Grunwald: (Laughter)

Heffner: I think of Henry Adams’ comments about evolution, or from George Washington to Ulysses Grant, was that better for the human race? You’re very optimistic now, as we look at the future?

Grunwald: I’m optimistic, but I have a special kind of optimism which is perhaps a little bit due to my European, to my birth in Europe and my early years spent in Europe. I, I do have a, a rather skeptical view of human nature. I think we must not be starry eyed about what people are like. I think if anything Americans have a, probably it’s to their credit but also sometimes to their peril, an inadequate sense of evil. Americans are always surprised by evil. And i think too much so.

Heffner: Sometime you’ll have to come back and we’ll talk about American sense, or lack of sense of evil. Thank you so much, Henry Grunwald.

Grunwald: Thank you

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us here again on the Open Mind. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”