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Origins of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, 1949-50 Cultural Cold War

By Michael S. Warner


Give me a hundred million dollars and a thousand dedicated people, and I will guarantee to generate such a wave of democratic unrest among the masses—yes, even among the soldiers of Stalin’s own empire, that all his problems for a long period of time, to come will be internal. I can find the people.

Sidney Hook, 1949

The Congress for Cultural Freedom is widely considered one of the CIA’s more daring and effective Cold War covert operations. It published literary and political journals such as Encounter, hosted dozens of conferences bringing together some of the most eminent Western thinkers, and even did what it could to help intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain. Somehow this organization of scholars and artists, egotistical, freethinking, and even anti-American in their politics managed to reach out from its Paris headquarters to demonstrate that Communism, despite its blandishments, was a deadly foe of art and thought. Getting such people to cooperate at all was a feat, but the Congress’s Administrative Secretary, Michael Josselson, kept them working together for almost two decades until the Agency arranged an amicable separation from the Congress in 1966.

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