For McCarthy the post-World War II period was a time of personal and political liberation. In 1945 McCarthy divorced Edmund Wilson and returned with their then six year old son to New York City. She took a one year teaching position at Bard College, where she met Bowdon Broadwater, a staff member at the New Yorker and eight years her junior, whom she married in 1946 and remained with for fifteen years.
She spent summers in Truro near Wellfleet at the home of Italian anarcho-pacifist and anti-fascist Nicola Chiaromonte among other leftist intellectuals. With the advent of the atomic bomb and the emerging totalitarian threat of Soviet Russia, some New York intellectuals turned toward anarcho-pacifism as an ideological ideal. Under Chiaromonte’s influence she helped form Europe-America Groups in 1948, a non-partisan organization for international aid to European intellectuals after World War II. The organization dissolved a year later due to factionalism. The factionalism of leftist intellectuals and the failure of intellectuals to put their ideas into action are parodied in McCarthy’s satire, The Oasis (1949). McCarthy was strongly criticized for writing this roman a clef in which both Philip Rahv and Dwight Macdonald were mercilessly satirized.
In the postwar period, many intellectuals questioned the value of Marxism and of ideology in general in a turn toward revisionist liberalism and liberal anti-Communism. While McCarthy was sympathetic with the non-Communist left, in her 1952 novel The Groves of Academe she satirizes the progressive idealism of the fellow-traveling liberal intelligentsia in the faculty’s unwitting defense of an alleged Communist professor at a small, progressive college. In 1952, McCarthy, along with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Hannah Arendt, Dwight Macdonald, and Richard Rovere attempted to form Critic , an independent liberal magazine devoted to politics and civil libertarian issues. While the project never came to fruition, it foreshadowed McCarthy’s increasing interest in radical politics and social action which peaked in her outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam in the sixties and seventies.
During the fifties McCarthy also published a collection of short stories, Cast a Cold Eye (1950), including the autobiographical story “The Weeds” based on her destructive relationship with Wilson as well as the novel, A Charmed Life (1955), a more extensive indictment of her involvement with Wilson. She also published her travel writing in Italy with Venice Observed (1956) and The Stones of Florence (1959) as well as a collection of her theatre reviews, Sights and Spectacles: Theatre Chronicles, 1937-1956 (1957).
In 1959 on a trip to Poland with the U.S. Information Agency, McCarthy met and fell in love with James West, an officer with the American embassy in Poland. After securing divorces from their respective spouses, the two were married in 1961 in a relationship that lasted the rest of their lives. The couple moved to Paris, where McCarthy completed work on her best-selling novel, The Group ( 1963) and split their time between their homes in Paris, France and Castine, Maine.