Victor Navasky, an award-winning novelist and writer who oversaw the liberal weekly The Nation for many years and authored major books on anti-Communist blacklisting and Robert F. Kennedy’s justice department, has passed away at the age of 90.
A spokesman for The Nation confirmed Navasky’s death on Tuesday, but did not immediately provide any information. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of the magazine, tweeted that Navasky had “changed her life, and 1000s of others who embarked on their informal journalistic education” at The Nation.
During a foundation event, Victor Navasky reads the Constitution of the United States. Brian Zak, courtesy of Getty Images
Navasky edited notable authors and intellectuals such as David Corn, Eric Alterman, and Katha Pollitt.
“Victor was a true believer in the power of independent media — quietly fierce in his convictions, kind and generous to so very many,” stated vanden Heuvel.
As an editor and columnist for The New York Times, the founder of the satirical magazine Monocle, and the editor and then publisher of The Nation from 1978 to 2005, Navasky was a well-known figure in the literary and political worlds.
Navasky was also well-known for his political and cultural history works. The 1982 National Book Award winner “Naming Names,” was a comprehensive, thorough, and objective account of the Cold War and the blacklisting of putative Communists. He referred to the book as a “moral detective story” and drew from interviews with actor Lee J. Cobb, screenwriter Budd Schulberg, and others who informed on their peers to dramatize not only the attacks from Sen. Joseph McCarthy and other Republicans, but also the disagreements among liberals over how to respond.
Earlier in his career, Navasky wrote “Kennedy Justice,” which provided some of the first sustained liberal analysis of Kennedy’s brief time as attorney general, his recruitment of talented subordinates such as future Supreme Court Justice Byron White, and his exhausting struggle to control FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Some scholars believed that Navasky romanticized Kennedy, despite the fact that the author criticized Kennedy for his record of choosing segregationist federal judges.
He wrote, “No aspect of Robert Kennedy’s Attorney Generalship is more vulnerable to criticism,” “For it was a blatant contradiction for the Kennedys to forego civil rights legislation and executive action in favor of litigation and at the same time appoint as lifetime litigation-overseers men dedicated to frustrating that litigation.”
In recent years, Navasky served as publisher emeritus and occasional contributor for The Nation. He also taught journalism at Columbia University and served on the boards of various organizations, including the Authors Guild and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The publication of his book on political cartoons, “The Art of Controversy,” occurred in 2013.
In 1966, Navasky married Anne Strongin. There were three of them.
New York native Navasky attended elementary school in Greenwich Village at the Little Red School House, which was influenced in part by John Dewey’s progressive educational beliefs.
In 2005, Navasky told The Guardian, “We had one Marxist history teacher who taught a straight Marxist view of history,” “I recall him once asking where diamonds’ value originated. Someone stated, “Because they’re lovely.” He responded, ‘no, no.’ Someone else had said “supply and demand.” He said, ‘no.’ Someone else stated, “From the sweat of the mine workers!” And he replied, “Right!””
At Swarthmore College, where he majored in political science and edited the student newspaper, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then earned a master’s degree in law from Yale Law School. At Yale, he helped found the magazine Monocle, which ran from 1959 to 1965 and is considered a forerunner of the absurdist, topical humor of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Nora Ephron, a contributor to Monocle, would remember Navasky as a man “who knew important people, and he knew people he made you think were important simply because he knew them.”
Navasky authored a monthly column for The New York Times about publishing and handled the unsuccessful Senate campaign of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. In 1977, he was hired to edit The Nation, a century-old journal that was frequently cash-strapped yet brimming with controversy.
Alexander Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens were equally likely to attack each other as they were to attack conservatives. The charming Navasky was frequently criticized for being either too cheap with his staff (“The wily and parsimonious Victor Navasky,” his friend and Nation columnist Calvin Trillin nicknamed him) or too polite.
Hitchens, who resigned from The Nation in 2002, famously remarked, “The only thing I don’t like about Victor is the fact that everybody likes him,” I believe he ought to have made more enemies by now.
During Navasky’s tenure, the magazine’s circulation more than tripled, and in 1979, when it published a lengthy article containing parts from former President Gerald Ford’s memoir, it infuriated some readers. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the publisher Harper & Row in a copyright infringement decision that remains relevant to this day.
An appeals court in New York had sided with The Nation prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. The judgement was penned by Judge Irving Kaufman, who infuriated Navasky and other members of the left decades earlier by inflicting the death penalty on convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In 2005, Navasky was awarded the George K. Polk Book Award for “A Matter of Opinion,” a memoir and fervent advocacy of free speech.
Navasky writes in his autobiography, “I was, I guess, what would be called a left liberal, although I never thought of myself as all that left,” “I believed in civil rights and civil liberties, I favored racial integration, I thought responsibility for the international tensions of the cold war was equally distributed between the United States and the U.S.S.R.