"Seeds of Treason" author and longtime anti-Communist, columnist Ralph de Toledano died Saturday at age 90. A close friend of Whitaker Chambers, he was the first prominent conservative to write that Alger Hiss was clearly guilty of being a Communist, a fact belatedly admitted by the left in the 1990s after 40 years defending Hiss.
Ralph de Toledano, a long-time fixture at the National Press Club bar, was unknown to most of today’s know-it-all Washingtonians. And that’s too bad: They missed knowing a real American original.
Born in Morocco, where his journalist father was posted, Toledano was everything a conservative was not supposed to be: cultured, hip, funny, low key, sensitive, extraordinarily intelligent, multilingual (including Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish and Yiddish), and equally at ease at the White House or in a boozy smoke-filled jazz club.
Adding insult to injury, if you like playing mind games with liberals, Toledano had Jewish roots and was descended from a string of Sephardic rabbis (though he did not observe Jewish practice). This was at a time when "Jewish conservative" was truly an oxymoron.
As an undergraduate at Columbia University, Toledano was twice awarded the prestigious Philolexian Prize for Poetry. His poetry, literary criticism and music commentaries were widely published, appearing in Poetry, American Scholar, Commentary, National Review — for whom he wrote record reviews for many years — and Saturday Review.
As a journalist, Toledano worked for several years at Newsweek, both in New York and Washington, where he served as assistant Washington bureau chief. He later wrote a widely syndicated column for Copley News Service.
But it was as an author and biographer — and frequent champion of then unpopular causes and ideas — that established Toledano as one of the leading 20th-Century figures on the American right.
And it was his candid book-length portraits of popular and/or powerful public figures — including President Nixon, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, consumer activist Ralph Nader, farm workers organizer Cesar Chavez and New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — that made Toledano unwelcome in many Washington circles.
His best-known book, and most courageous by most accounts, was the 1950 best-seller, "Seeds of Treason," in which Toledano documented — supporting the claims of Whittaker Chambers — State Department employee Alger Hiss’ links to the Communist Party. Though Toledano was denounced at the time, his research was substantiated when the Soviet archives were open to Western scholars and historians following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ralph de Toledano was a gentleman (occasionally naughty, to be sure) as well as a scholar, a partisan as well as a poet, an artist as well as a smart aleck. He knew Greenwich Village the way most of today’s journalists know the floor at Burberry’s — it’s where he felt most at home, most alive. To this day, his book, "The Frontiers of Jazz," is considered one of the classics in the field. Ralph was a classic himself. And a class act. And he will be dearly missed.
Note: M. Stanton Evans offers his own tribute to de Toledano below:
"Ralph was among the last surviving members of the founding era of American conservatism, and one of the most influential. His expertise in the realm of Cold War studies and problems of internal subversion was unsurpassed. Such of his early works as "Spies, Dupes & Diplomats" and "Seeds of Treason" are as valid today as when they were written — indeed, more so, as they have been repeatedly confirmed by more recent revelations. He was remarkably generous also in sharing the vast store of information he had assembled. Ralph was many other things as well — novelist, music critic, poet — but for me he was both mentor and example."