National Post Book review of Norman Podhoretz's Ex-Friends (National Post, Jan. 2003)


National Post - Wednesday January 1st, 2003


 
 
EX-FRIENDS: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer
 
Barbara Kay  
National Post

EX-FRIENDS: Falling out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer
 

By

Norman Podhoretz (Encounter, 2000)

A review by Barbara Kay

"Autobiography is only to be trusted," said George Orwell, "when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats." As his admirers well know, this quotation illuminates a truth about George Orwell, but can it be applied as a general rule? In Ex-Friends, his eighth book and a continuation of the long-running account of his intellectual journey begun in Making It in 1967 and followed up by Breaking Ranks in 1979, Norman Podhoretz reveals much that is disgraceful about the six ex-friends named in the subtitle, but little of which he is personally ashamed in himself.
Reviewers seem to be divided on whether Podhoretz is a latter-day Lytton Strachey or a postmodern Judas . Readers who are uncomfortable with what Judith Shalevitz, editor of on-line magazine Slate, calls "spiterature" and what John Updike calls "Judas biography", might be negatively inclined before even reading Ex-Friends. It would be unfair, in my opinion, however, to include this fascinating intellectual odyssey with such 'revengraphies' as Mia Farrow's What Falls Away (life with Woody Allen), Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow (failed friendship with V.S. Naipaul), or Claire Bloom's Leaving a Doll's House (gripes with Philip Roth) . Podhoretz's problems with his six ex-friends have nothing - essentially, at any rate - to do with personality clashes, love gone sour, or professional rivalries. Podhoretz withdrew - or was abandoned by - these once-celebrated thinkers and writers on intellectual and ideological grounds. 'Friendship' as a structural framework is Podhoretz's strategy for making American political and social history attractive to a much wider reading public than a purely intellectual memoir would have done.
"Writers can be cordial, charming, social ornaments, but their talent for retaining friends is, on balance, less than impressive. They are notable for touchiness, a want of reciprocity, self-protectiveness…qualities conducing less to the preservation than to the ruin of friendships…Rivalrousness, envy, ideological argumentativeness, and Schadenfreude being their reigning emotional states, these nicely pave the way for inconstancy, infidelity, and straight-out betrayal…"
Is this true? The portraits so evocatively painted in Ex-Friends would seem to support Joseph Epstein's view, although Mr. Podhoretz himself might be the exception that proves the rule. Except, of course, for the ideological argumentativeness. Podhoretz is debtor to no man in the zeal and passion with which he has promoted his ideas and his ideals, whether from the left, where he began in the 30s and 40s, or the neo-conservative right , where, from the mid-60s on he has been universally acknowledged as chief crusader in the "culture wars" against the New Left.
Podhoretz says that he wrote this book to answer the question: why can't you argue and disagree with people about impersonal topics like politics or literature and yet remain friends? The simple answer is that intellectuals do not become friends in the first place for the usual reasons: common pleasures, background, professions or personalities. An intellectual is "someone who lives for, by and off ideas." The less simple answer is that the six people in this book with whom Podhoretz was involved represent to a lesser or greater degree friendships founded on a common way of looking at politics, the arts and/or the world at a time in American history when ideas were being debated in an elite public forum, and when ideological writing could influence the nation's sense of itself. That, at any rate, was the working hypothesis of intellectuals like Podhoretz. A perceived 'heresy' could therefore not be disassociated from its perpetrator. When Podhoretz's ideas changed, he was liable to 'excommunication', and he understood that this was the price an intellectual paid in his circle.
During the period when the Cold War was a seemingly remote memory, and before Islamist fanaticism revealed the global reach of its terrifying purposes, it was easy to forget the tensions that gripped us in the fifties, when families sat at dinner tables discussing the merits of private bomb shelters, and young parents weighed the odds of their children surviving the nuclear winter that would follow the outbreak of war between the superpowers. No one could seal himself off from these realities. No longer could an isolationist-minded American be "left alone". Later on, in a time of external peace, ordinary Americans (and citizens of other democracies) would find they could not be "left alone" on a more personal level, in the way in which they conducted their personal and social lives. Of which more - on the Culture Wars - anon.
But in the fifties the coincidence of the nuclear threat following hard on the heels of WWII and revelations of a holocaust still too overwhelming to be assimilated, coupled with the emergence of the most intellectually gifted concentration of brain power in modern times, resulted in - The Family .
The Family was a loosely defined assemblage of New York intellectuals, largely anti-Soviet and pro-Freud , and spread out amongst three magazines: Partisan Review, the New Leader and Commentary . They considered themselves to be at the "bloody crossroads" where literature and politics met. Commentary, which was to dominate most of Podhoretz's life, was, at mid-century, "a great incubator of intellectual Jewish content by children of poor immigrants, self-conscious about their Jewishness, and at least partially estranged from America by parochialism and Marxist ideology. Eliot Cohen {editor of Commentary until his death in 1960} helped them to think of America as their own country."
Podhoretz has talked about his childhood in Brooklyn at greater length in other books. He spoke Yiddish at home and was given a rich Jewish education along with the cosmopolitan education he received at his Brooklyn high school in the forties. All his family, neighbours and teachers were devotees of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and leftists in greater or lesser degree. Podhoretz won a scholarship to Columbia University and immediately achieved wide recognition for his brilliance in his chosen field, literature, while at the same time attending the Jewish Theological Seminary at night to complete a degree in Jewish Studies! At Columbia he worshipped along with everyone else at the shrine of Lionel Trilling, author of The Liberal Imagination, and guru to an entire generation of aspiring literary critics. Columbia was followed by a scholarship for three years in England at Cambridge University, where he sat at the feet of England's Trilling, literary critic F. R. Leavis.
Podhoretz was entitled to a student exemption from the Armed Forces during the Korean War but chose to enlist out of patriotism and, he admits, as a means of testing his manhood. He didn't see active duty, though, and was eventually posted to Germany with the Occupation forces. When a second lieutenant who was supposed to deliver a series of lectures based on a government-written "indoctrination course" (official words) keeled over with stage fright, young corporal Podhoretz, known to be a brainy college boy, was dragooned into explaining to hundreds upon hundreds of enlisted men the difference between Them - the Communists - and Us. He liked the experience so much , and it accorded so well with his recent intellectual forages - he had recently read and been bowled over by Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism - that he knew he had found his métier and his great subject.
Upon his return to New York he joined editor Eliot Cohen's team at Commentary and, in due course, and for 35 years thereafter (1960-95) became known as "the editor of the most rewarding monthly journal of thought and criticism in America…and as the dominant figure in infusing into the culture of New York the catechism of neo-conservatism."
One can only imagine what a heady experience it must have been in the fifties to spend one's time as an intellectual gladiator by day and a hard-drinking party-goer at night, socializing with the best and brightest of the publishing elites in that gregarious, ambitious and aggressively idealistic milieu. You could not be a member of the Family, Podhoretz tells us, unless you were acknowledged to be "brilliant". To be brilliant, in his words was to have "the virtuosic ability to put ideas together in such new and surprising combinations that even if one disagreed with what was being said, one was excited and illuminated." (p. 143).
Brilliance was no help to you when you strayed from the party line, however. And that 'line', whether anti-Stalinist, anti-anti-communist, Trotskyite, or simply fellow-travelling, was almost always to the left of where Podhoretz felt himself being drawn . Brilliance could be used in the service of wrong ideas as well as right, as Podhoretz was most notably to discover in his breakup with Hannah Arendt. Of the six ex-friends, only Norman Mailer is alive today, and, while still on the lecture circuit , he presents but a domesticated shade of his former leonine stature and notoriety.
But who reads the works of any of these authors today? Why should we care about these ancient quarrels? Podhoretz apologetically and a bit defensively admits: "I realize how bizarrely sectarian all this must sound to ears not attuned to the ideological wars of the intellectuals." His justification is that we are presently struggling to free ourselves from the legacy of the most wrongheaded of his ex-friends. The Cold War is over, but the Culture Wars rage on. The appropriation and marxization of the word "liberal" by the New Left and their subsequent occupation of the Democratic Party can be directly traced, in Podhoretz's opinion, to the once-influential thinking and writings of these ex-friends. Not to them alone, of course, but these are the representative 'ringleaders' with whom he personally happened to have joined in battle.
Of the culture wars Podhoretz says: "In contrast to most strictly political battles, these culture wars do arouse the passions of all those people who, in their wish to be left alone, are frustrated by forces and ideas that are repugnant to them and from which they cannot seal themselves off or - what is more infuriating - protect their children."(p. 6) When wringing our hands over an imperial judiciary's concern for the 'rights' of pederasts like Robin Sharpe , blinking in disbelief at the rapper lyrics of Eminem and his ilk , clucking over anorexic teenage models sporting the latest in harlot-inspired clothes, gasping at discussions about dropping Shakespeare from high school curricula in order to accommodate the study of e-mail, or churning over a bio-ethicist's opinion that circumcision is "criminal assault": at such moments we "are getting a small taste of what life is always like for an intellectual." (p. 6)
Constraints of time and length demanded some triage, and I have chosen not to deal in this review with the Trillings or with Norman Mailer. The Trillings occupied a special niche in the pantheon of mid-century"figures" . Podhoretz was in awe of Lionel . Although rarely read or acknowledged today, Lionel was then a giant in the world of literary criticism, and Diana, however erratic and manic, exerted no small influence on the political scene. Nevertheless, their relationship with Podhoretz was so involved and nuanced, much of it revolving around vestigial literary and politically intramural kerfuffles of no interest to a general reader, that it would require a separate review to do it justice. Moreover, I do not consider the fastidious Lionel or the volatile Diana so much ex-friends as 'atrophied' friends. There was no single major rupture. They often disagreed, but in the end the Trillings were not responsible for any major breakthroughs in Podhoretz's personal evolution in the way the more adversarial friends were. At the other extreme, Norman Mailer was certainly always interesting to everyone, but Podhoretz was the opposite of "in awe" of him. Podhoretz championed his early writing, and was fascinated by his wretched excesses, but he did not admire his intellectual acumen, and was not changed by him, except insofar as Mailer reinforced Podhoretz's confidence in himself.
*

Allen Ginsberg:
"We'll get you through your children"

Allen Ginsberg was in the forefront of that movement, originating with the student radicals of the sixties, which culminated in the hijacking of the public discourse on social issues by public intellectuals from the academy, and which inspired Daniel Moynihan's famous phrase, "defining deviancy down," to describe the process in which we change the meaning of morality to fit what we are doing anyway.
Conservative writer Charles Murray says, "Never before has there been so much downward aspiration". Those who were once considered "trash" are now "the underclass." Behaviour - public obscenity, teen promiscuity, harlot-fashion, misogynist rapping, body-piercing, etc - that was considered disgusting in 1960 is now perceived as absolutely normal. To 'judge' these degenerate behaviours is to be called 'elitist', 'racist', 'sexist' or 'homophobic', take your pick. The collapse of old codes - such as the now faintly ludicrous notions of 'modesty', 'virtue', a gentleman or lady - leaves a vacuum to be filled, and it has been by Eminem's "thug code." Toynbee has said that the mark of a disintegrating civilization is a "riven culture", a "schism in the soul", and some conservative thinkers feel that we have arrived at this place.
Allen Ginsberg was more a foil to The Family than a member. His relationship with Podhoretz - and Mailer's as well - serves to illuminate Podhoretz's evolving moral attitudes vis a vis the themes of (promiscuous) homosexuality, marital fidelity, drugs, and civic pride, while the others were more strictly political jousts. There are those who believe Podhoretz wildly overestimated Ginsberg's influence on the 60s radicals. It is true that one might infer from his account here that Ginsberg was a kind of 'godfather' in perverting liberal America into a maelstrom of sex, drugs and anarchy. However, though his major writings were behind him by the 60s, Ginsberg (along with Jack Kerouac) was for many more years - perhaps still? - a fixture in the English department syllabuses as a major icon for the Beat Movement. And the campuses were of course the incubators and Party Central for the contemporary Radical Left
Podhoretz met Ginsberg at Columbia and was at first a great admirer of his talent. He even promoted his early work in Commentary. But little by little he grew tired of Ginsberg's "conviction that any form of rebellion against American culture is admirable." In his writings' glamorization, even sanctification, of promiscuous homosexuality, madness and the drug culture, Ginsberg was advancing a "revolt of the spiritually underprivileged and the crippled of soul" against "normal feeling and the attempt to cope with the world through intelligence."
You will find a leitmotif running through these narratives that begins with Ginsberg and threads its way through the other stories, and that is the theme of anti-Americanism. Podhoretz was often himself at odds with American policies; he was amongst the first to criticize American involvement in Vietnam, for example, or at least in the calamitous form it took. But he never hated his own country. He was/is a patriot; and like most near-immigrants he has remained very conscious of his immense good fortune and very grateful to live in a free country where his ambitions were bounded only by his talents and disciplined determination . Podhoretz explains:
Now, in the mid-1960s, as before, the major difference between us had to do with our wildly contrasting ideas about America. Ginsberg's anti-Americanism of the 1950s had been bad enough, but the form it took in the 1960s as it exfoliated (or perhaps metastasized would be a better word) was even worse….What {his disciples and friends} all had in common was a fierce hatred of America, which they saw as "Amerika," a country morally and spiritually equivalent to Nazi Germany. America's political system…and its culture was based on repression, to which the only answer was to opt out of middle-class life and liberate the squelched and smothered self through drugs and sexual promiscuity.
…Even when I was at my most radical, I still loved America, and my own utopian aspirations were directed at perfecting, not destroying it…whereas in their hatred of America they yearned for us to be defeated and humiliated {in Vietnam} and the Communists to win . (p. 47)
Podhoretz reproaches the parents of Ginsberg's disciples for indulging that generation's excesses, misreading nihilism as idealism, but reserves supreme contempt for the educators and academic leaders who deferred to, and appeased, the radicals rather than standing up to them, citing in particular Archibald Cox of Harvard Law School who called the radicals "the most intelligent and the most idealistic generation ever born in America."
In a recent Commentary article (Dec 2002), "I love Iraq, Bomb Texas," Victor Davis Hanson tears a strip off the academic establishment for creating, or rather furthering, the "religion" of anti-Americanism. He says:
The anti-Americans often invoke Rome as a warning and as a model, both of our imperialism and of our foreordained collapse. But the threats to Rome's predominance were more dreadful in 220 B.C.E. than in 400 C.E. The difference over six centuries, the dissimilarity that led to the end, was a result not of imperial overstretch on the outside but of something happening within that was not unlike what we ourselves are now witnessing. Earlier Romans knew what it was to be Roman, why it was at least better than the alternative, and why their culture had to be defended. Later in ignorance they forgot what they knew, in pride mocked who they were, and in consequence disappeared.
Podhoretz admits that Ginsberg made good on his threat, "We'll get you through your children", and ends this section with a quote from Orwell who held a similarly morose view of the society he lived in: "The fact to which we have to cling, as to a lifebelt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive."
*
Lillian Hellman:
"While I can think of some redeeming quality in Ginsberg, I cannot think of a single one for dear old Lillian"

It isn't Podhoretz's quarrel with Lillian Hellman that is surprising, it is the notion of any possible meeting ground for friendship in the first place. Hellman was probably a card-carrying member of the Communist Party (when it was chic, or at least 'safe' to be), she refused to acknowledge the most egregious of the Stalinist-era crimes, such as the Show Trials and the indiscriminate slaughter of the peasants, she helped to organize the Waldorf Conference of 1949, which tried to whitewash Stalin's actions and blame the U.S. for Cold War tensions , and - apart from her unscrupulous manipulation of facts in them - Podhoretz didn't even like her writings on aesthetic grounds. To top it off, Lillian exhibited a fat streak of anti-semitism that often provoked passionate debates between them.
But life is unpredictable. A confluence of mirroring dips and curves in Podhoretz's and Hellman's political attitudes and a common social network laid propitious terrain for a mutual attraction. Of all his ex-friends, Hellman was the most personally seductive for Podhoretz, and his narrative plausibly evokes an atmosphere of glamour and sophistication surrounding the 52-year-old celebrity that few impressionable and ambitious 27-year-old writers could have resisted. Podhoretz includes entertaining glimpses of her intoxicating dinner parties (she was a wonderful cook) where one might meet Leonard Bernstein, William Styron or John Marquand, and her several homes, including the Martha's Vineyard getaway she once lent to Podhoretz for a writing haven.
The friendship eventually foundered in the political wars of the sixties. The radical New Left was now drawing inspiration not from Russia but from China, Cuba and North Vietnam; it was "socialism" now, never Communism; but the hatred of "Amerika" was as fierce as ever. Podhoretz had been briefly sympathetic to the New Left in the early sixties, but the Berkely riots of 1964 sent him once and for all to the ramparts and a scathing counterattack in a widely discussed Commentary article, "Making the World Safe for Communism". Hellman, insulted at his use of the term "anti-American" being applied to the New York Review of Books as well as to the Black Panthers, ended the friendship.
With her publication of Scoundrel Time, the third in a series of memoirs, the friendship was bound to end in any case. While Podhoretz's idea of scoundrels were Stalinist fellow travelers and apologists, Hellman's scoundrels were those who "named names" to the McCarthy hearings. Podhoretz was incensed about her "blasphemous" portrayal of her 'heroism' and so-called 'punishment' in the light of what real dissidents abroad were suffering . Galvanized by anger, Podhoretz now set out to "help all I could in rebuilding the moral and political case for a renewal of American resistance to the spread of Soviet power and influence."(p. 133)
In the 1970s Lillian Hellman appeared at the Academy Awards ceremony and received a standing ovation. Two years ago, about half of the audience at the Academy Awards refused to stand to honour Elias Kazan's lifetime achievement award because he had "named names". The fact that he had done so out of principle, out of repentance for having supported a murderous regime cut no ice with the predominantly "liberal" Hollywood community; his award (which even his enemies concede was well-deserved) was voted down repeatedly by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Now that we are finally beginning to realize the full horror of Stalinism, it is curious that those politically correct actors and directors, apparently now amiably reconciled to 'blacklisting' when they themselves make up the lists, who sat stony-faced on their hands during Kazan's presentation have not done a little public soul-searching. Can one conceivably imagine a standing ovation for an American who once explained away the Nazi death camps as 'historical necessity' or some similar claptrap? The analogy, we now know, is a reasonable one. Hellman's supporters claim that she must be absolved for her sins because of her sufferings at the hands of the McCarthy inquisitors. Her own defense is that she made "mistakes" but "I do not believe we did our country harm." (p. 137) Even socialist Irving Howe recoiled at accepting such a pusillanimous plea-bargain and responded to her directly thus:
Dear Lillian Hellman, you could not be more mistaken! Those who supported Stalinism and its political enterprises, either here or abroad, helped befoul the cultural atmosphere, helped bring totalitarian methods into trade unions, helped perpetuate one of the great lies of our century, helped destroy whatever possibilities there might have been for a resurgence of serious radicalism in America. Isn't that harm enough? (p. 137-8)

*

Hannah Arendt:
"When Hannah Arendt put her very great intelligence into the service of an erroneous judgment…she was never simply wrong. She exploded into wrongness, with angry sparks flying about."

In terms of Podhoretz's own moral and Jewish evolution, Hannah Arendt was clearly the most important of his ex-friends because it was her writings, along with the anti-Israeli New Left, that made him address his own doubts about his Jewishness and his early ambivalence about the necessity for the State of Israel.
Arendt was alone in the Family in being more concerned with philosophy and political theory than the arts. She was also the only one never to have been a leftist in her formative years. Her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, brought her to national attention, and made an enormous impression on Podhoretz. Although George Orwell had come to the same conclusions as Arendt and published them in the allegorical, reader-friendly Animal Farm some time before her book appeared, Podhoretz writes about her ideas as though she had invented the notion that, at bottom, Nazism and Communism were two sides of the same coin. Arendt explained in her book that old despotisms were content with a monopoly of power in the political realm alone, while totalitarian regimes sought to establish complete control over every aspect of life, looked beyond their own borders to the eventual goal of global dominion, and considered murdering an unlimited number of their own people as a justifiable means to a destined end.
In the beginning Podhoretz had tremendous respect for Arendt's original, even if adversarial point of view on seemingly unassailable positions. He cites in particular her view of the crisis in Little Rock and the forced integration of schools there. Everyone Podhoretz knew, and he himself, saw the crisis in the starkest moral terms. But Arendt questioned the conventional wisdom of forcing the issue of desegregation in the field of public education rather than in some other field in the campaign for Negro rights.
It certainly did not require too much imagination to see that this was to burden children, black and white, with the working out of a problem which adults for generations have confessed themselves unable to solve….The {token} girl, obviously, was asked to be a hero - that is, something neither her absent father nor the equally absent representatives of the NAACP felt called upon to be…(p. 147)
As it turned out, this was the beginning of difficulties in their friendship. Podhoretz admired the subtlety of her viewpoint and would have published her article on Little Rock, standing by Commentary's mandate to publish brilliant and challenging work on its own terms. His colleagues demurred, agreeing to publish hers only in company with a rebuttal piece. Quite naturally offended, she withdrew her article and it was published elsewhere .
The irreparable break in the friendship, though, occurred as a result of Podhoretz's evolving views on Israel and Arendt's analysis of the Eichmann story. On his first visit to Israel in 1951, when he was twenty-one, Podhoretz had found Israelis to be "unattractive" and "gratuitously surly and boorish". He came away "with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth and a sense of having been strangely dispossessed." (p. 155) In spite of an unusually rich Jewish education, he was not at all observant and "had a related problem with Jewish particularism." Eichmann changed all that.
In the blaze of often negative mediatic scrutiny surrounding Eichmann's capture in Brazil by Israeli agents, and Israel's decision not to return him to Germany, but to try him in Israel for his crimes against the Jews, Podhoretz finally twigged to the double standard Israel was continually subjected to, not only by the world but by other Jews. Even elite Jews, (not all but including some) law professors and community leaders, called for life imprisonment for Eichmann as a means of capturing the world's renewed faith and admiration. It was "the first time I ever clearly understood the dangerous implications of the notion that Jews in general and the Jewish state in particular were required to be morally superior to everyone else." (p. 158) To Israel's Jewish critics Podhoretz responded:
I wonder why it is that Israel must always be asked to act more nobly than other nations. Isn't this demand a way of telling Jews that they must justify their existence instead of taking it for granted that they have a simple right to exist and therefore to be "merely" human, and "like the nations"?
Hannah Arendt covered the trial. Upon publication of her Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, the Family rose up as one in denunciation. Their consensus was that she wrote the book from an anti-Zionist bias with a view to almost exonerating Eichmann from guilt.
Podhoretz countered with an article in Commentary called "Hannah Arendt on Eichmann: A Study in the Perversity of Brilliance", in which he argued that she was insinuating that Jews must be better than others, "to be braver, wiser, nobler, more dignified - or be damned" (p. 166), and that brilliance in the service of a wrong idea is all the more pernicious for being so. "So I learned from Hannah's portrait of Eichmann that there was nothing admirable about brilliance in itself." (p. 165)
This comment resonates in our own day, for Arendt's heirs in today's intelligentsia have come under increasingly critical attack by neo-conservatives, as campus political correctness becomes increasingly strident, despotic and bizarrely detached from the convictions and thoughts of ordinary people.
Recently, for example, in his book Public Intellectuals jurist Richard Posner takes academic leftists to task: Typical academics, he says, "tend to be unworldly. They are, most of them anyway, the people who have never left school. Their milieu is post-adolescent." In addition, he says they have a proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstractions, a desire for moral purity, …and intellectual arrogance, all of which work together to induce in many academic public intellectuals selective empathy, a selective sense of justice, insensitivity to context, a lack of perspective, a denigration of predecessors as lacking moral insight, an impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism and excessive self-confidence. Podhoretz would agree with all of this.
Podhoretz' own view on Arendt's deflation of evil's enormities was reinforced by another Commentary article that gained wide currency, by Philosophy Professor Emil Fackenheim, suggesting the addition of the 614th commandment, "There shall be Jews", as well as the famous prohibition against "posthumous victories for Hitler."
Arendt's book and Fackenheim's rejoinder were watershed intellectual events for Podhoretz, and a major turning point in his life as a Jew. "I resolved, in taking upon myself the yoke of this commandment, to obey it by relentlessly championing the Jewish state against its political and ideological enemies." (p. 167) Obviously his friendship with Arendt withered - though not as acrimoniously as one would think - and their paths diverged ever wider. By the 1960s Arendt was well to the Left and stayed there for the last ten years of her life, indulging her soft spot for the student radicals. She wrote mostly for the New York Review of Books "in whose eyes America and not the Soviet Union was the great threat to the peace and freedom of the world." When the Watergate crisis rolled around, Arendt drew an analogy between the men around Nixon and "the men who surrounded and helped Hitler and Stalin."(p. 174)
*

Podhoretz's friendships changed him, and gave him a sense of mission - to re-invoke old norms in a riven culture; to defend the proposition that virtue and vice are valid concepts in a culture dominated by the voices of ecumenical niceness and moral relativism. "I was who I was in some part because of my friendships with them, and I am who I am in larger part because we ceased being friends. In all truth, I much prefer who I am to who I was." This book is worth our attention - at least I found it worth mine - because in many ways I am who I am because of Norman Podhoretz. He cured me of fuzzy reasoning and sentimentalism on all kinds of political issues, including those dealing with Jewish self-interest, and it is Commentary Magazine that has for the most part shaped my standards for critical thinking and writing on a wide variety of subjects.
The Family was a phenomenon that is unlikely to pass this way again, and that too is a good reason to revisit its passions and group dynamics. Today, in Charles Murray's words, "We are witnessing the proletarianization of the dominant minority" . Gone are those once-elite, creative minorities with a strong and self-confident sense of style, virtue and purpose. "Given the diffusion and dilution of American Jewish life these days, it is indeed unlikely we shall ever see such an extended interplay of Jewish brain power in America again…We should all be so lucky to accumulate such a treasury of ex-friends."

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