Bad Faith recounts the history of the Rapp-Coudert investigation into alleged communist subversion in the public schools and municipal colleges of New York City. With roots in the intellectual and political life of the city, the Rapp-Coudert probe, lasting from August 1940 to March 1942, enjoyed the support not only of conservatives but also of key liberal reformers and intellectuals. In reconstructing this part of the history of prewar anticommunism, Bad Faith challenges assumptions about the origins of McCarthyism, about the recent history of the liberal political tradition, and about the role of anticommunism in modern American life. This study finds in the Rapp-Coudert inquiry an expression of the liberal side of the “countersubversive tradition” in American political culture, as it explores how prominent Depressionera liberals, as they joined conservatives in accusing communists of “bad faith” and branded them enemies of American democracy, anticipated and made McCarthyism possible.
In reconstructing these political and historical currents in the life of New York City, Bad Faith explores fundamental schisms between liberals and communists that defied the apparent unity of the Popular Front, uncovering a dark side of the liberal tradition, one that shaped the nation’s academic and intellectual life for several postwar generations. Across that divide between liberal and communist, in schools and teachers’ unions especially, flew accusations of bad faith and misrepresentation, lying, and deception that defined liberal anticommunism and led many liberals to argue that the communist left should be excluded from American educational institutions and political life. This study of Rapp-Coudert also raises difficult questions about the good faith of the many liberals willing to aid and endorse the emerging Red scare, as they sacrificed democratic and liberal principles of open debate and academic freedom in the interest of achieving what they believed would be effective modern government based on a new and, they believed, permanent economic prosperity.