Michael Wreszin, a biographer of radical 20th-century American intellectuals who were prominent antiwar activists, among them the social critic Dwight Macdonald, died on Aug. 12 in Manhattan. He was 85.
Mr. Wreszin, a history professor at Queens College and an antiwar activist himself, was a student of the American left and the many ideological movements competing for dominance of it between the 1920s and 1960s, including socialism, communism, libertarianism and anarchism.
His subjects were cosmopolitan, humanist thinkers who saw a growing militarism in American political culture but whose scrupulous habits of mind could make them misfits in the ideological camps they joined.
In his preface to “A Rebel in Defense of Tradition,” his 1994 biography of Macdonald, Mr. Wreszin described the sliver of ideological ground occupied by one generation of such radical outliers.
“I wanted to study and inform my students about radicals who opposed Stalinist Communism,” he wrote, “but who were also critics of the liberal cold warriors and of much of American foreign policy, as well as capitalist consumer culture.”
All his subjects were of the same type: fiercely independent, sometimes contrarian, lonely freethinkers. The subject of his first book, “Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War” (1965), was publisher and editor of The Nation magazine from 1900 to 1932.