Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cultural Commissars

Here is the noble Christopher Hitchens (who died on September 11th, 2001; the neocon now using the same name and more or less the same face is a ghola) demolishing the execrable Norman Podhoretz in a review of the Pod's Ex-Friends:

A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can't make old friends. This is redeemed somewhat by the possibility of making new ones, and in his late maturity -- some might say that like the medlar fruit he went rotten before becoming ripe -- Podhoretz has found companionship and solidarity with some new chums. He mentions them shyly, as if he were back in his lonely childhood and his mother had secretly bribed them to play with him:

Here, in what is for me a rare submission to the principles of affirmative action, which dictate that I should strive to achieve greater name-dropping 'diversity', I will single out Henry Kissinger and William F. Buckley, Jr.

In spite of our failure to form ourselves into a cohesive family, we have managed to join forces as a dissenting minority of 'heretical' intellectuals who are trying to break the virtual monopoly that the worst ideas of my ex-friends hold (even from beyond the grave) over the cultural institutions of this country.

The purpose of recruiting these new chums is clear: to enlist them in the urgent task of pissing on the graves of the old ones. This makes them more like cronies, or accomplices, than actual friends. But perhaps that's better than nothing. Is it Henry and Bill, perhaps, who get together and agree to laugh at Norman's jokes? Whatever the case, the man who can describe this gleesome threesome as a trio of heretical dissenters is certainly eager to please.

For the purposes of comparison, here's what happens when Podhoretz encounters an authentic dissident:

When on a visit of my own to Prague in 1988 I was taken to meet Vaclav Havel,...the first thing that hit my eye upon entering his apartment was a huge poster of John Lennon hanging on the wall. Disconcerted, I tried to persuade Havel that the counterculture in the West was no friend of anti-Communists like himself, but I made even less of a 'dent' on him than Ginsberg had made on me thirty years earlier.

Good of Podhoretz to have spared so much time to put Havel straight. But that's the sort of guy he is -- always willing to oblige. Also, the fact that Havel was under house arrest may have helped both men to concentrate.

The above anecdote occurs in the chapter on Allen Ginsberg[...]


The Russian exile writer Vassily Aksyonov -- another example of the real as opposed to the bogus dissident -- once wrote that Podhoretz reminded him of all the things he had left the Soviet Union to escape. He had, said Aksyonov, the mentality of a cultural commissar. As the Ginsberg essay demonstrates, he has the soul of one as well.