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I keep hoping someone (ideally a woman) will write an essay on the New Republic and gender. These notes might be useful for that writer and are offered as a spur to thought:

1. On March 1, 1983 Arthur and Cynthia Koestler, a married couple, killed themselves. Beyond the usual ethical questions of suicide, the self-extinction of the Koestlers raised a specifically feminist quandary. Arthur Koestler was 76 when the suicide occurred and facing the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Suicide was a way of escaping the vulnerability and pain of old age and sickness. His wife was 55 years old and in the bloom of health. Moreover, Arthur, a world-famous novelist, was known to dominate over his meek wife, who served as his secretary. Did Arthur Koestler coerce his wife into suicide? And if so, what ethical judgments do we make of that?

The following year, the New Republic (TNR) commissioned a book review on the writings of Arthur and Cynthia Koestler by Lionel Abel, the literary critic known for his writings on drama. Abel also had a track record of sexism and homophobia. He had earlier written that the ideal theatre critic should be a heterosexual man: “I want a man to go [to the theatre], first of all, not a woman (I do have some prejudices), and I want the man to be stoutly uneffeminate (still more prejudice).” (Although to be fair, “stoutly uneffiminate” could perhaps include butch gay men).

Abel used a literary device to frame his judgement of Arthur Koestler. Abel pretended to be the judges of Hell (“we of Hell”), trying to determine which punishment Koestler deserves. The vast majority of his review is taken up with judging Arthur Koestler on his activities as a communist and anti-communist. But at the beginning Abel makes clear that he (or “we of Hell”) does not hold Koestler responsible for his treatment of Cynthia or any other woman. About Cynthia, Abel writes: “Can you [Arthur Koestler] be condemned for having made life appear so much worth living for Cynthia Koestler that without you her one desire was to die? No, for this you cannot and shall not be blamed  by us.”

The paragraph where Abel (“We of Hell”) exonerates Koestler for his treatment of women is worth quoting at in full:

Nor are we concerned about your practices, inveterate, and often regretted infidelities to the women with who you were involved. You were not the master of your appetite for sex, or even for romance. You hurt a lot of women, many of whom had not hurt you. Such are the facts, and in the first two revealing and entrancing volumes of your autobiography, The Invisible Writing and Arrow in the Blue, you admit to this quite candidly. But we of Hell are no feminists, nor are we egalitarian. We think it best for humans if at least half of them are happy, and we do not see why the more joyful ones should not be male.

What do we make of this curious essay, so dismissive of the problem of men who hurt women? A review where there is an implicit connection between men being “more joyful” and hurting women? It shocking to me when I first read it in the October 8, 1984 issue of the New Republic (when I was 17 years old, and hardly a feminist, indeed no more aware of gender justice than most boys my age). It becomes more shocking in retrospect because we know that Koestler’s habit of hurting women extended to assault and rape (there have been several plausible posthumous accusations).

Yet to survey the life of Arthur Koestler, a man already known in 1984 for having troubled relations with women, the New Republic (in the person, I suspect, of literary editor Leon Wieseltier) commissioned  a review from a writer known for his neanderthal gender politics.

The whole question of the New Republic and gender is a fraught one, but this review illustrates the problems the magazine often had especially in the three decades after Martin Peretz assumed ownership in 1974.It should be stated first of all that that under the most recent editor, Franklin Foer, who left the magazine last week, greatly improved the magazine’s handling of gender issues, hiring many superb female writers and editors, including the excellent Rebecca Traister, who is a regular columnist.

Yet from the 1970s and to the beginning of the 21st century, TNR had a terrible record on gender issues. It was partially a matter of hirings and assignments. In an article titled “Partisans Reviewed” from the November 1988 issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott noted that TNR featured far fewer female bylines than even conservative magazines like National Review or Commentary (which had writers like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Midge Decter, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Linda Chavez, and others in its stable).  Some of those Commentary writers would show up in the New Republic but only occasionally. But beyond not featuring very many women writers and hiring very many women editors, there was a larger question of perspective. Testosterone heavy as it was, the New Republic in the Peretz era was nominally feminist but consistently shunted feminist concerns aside.

2. For a sense of the numbers at work, it’s worth looking at VIDA, a website that usefully tracks bylines by gender. VIDA’s New Republic analysis can be found here. One striking detail: of 59 book reviewers in 2013, only 4 were women. By contrast, the Nation in the same period featured 72 reviewers (53 men, 19 women). The Nation figures aren’t that great but still nearly five times better than the New Republic.

3. “Why pick on the New Republic?” some will ask. “Doesn’t the media as a whole have a gender problem?” Two answers: the New Republic identifies itself as a liberal magazine and since the 1960s (if not before) feminism has been integral to liberalism. But beyond that: the New Republic is a gateway employer. Many of its interns and staffers go on to have jobs at the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. If the media has a gender problem, then the New Republic doesn’t just reflect that problem, it is a causal agent in creating that problem.

 

4. One paradox is that in the 1980s and 1990s when the New Republic did feature women, they were often very conservative and anti-feminist: Midge Decter, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and Camille Paglia being prime examples. It’s as if the only way a woman could gain entrance to the boy’s club was by denigrating her own sex. Paglia actually wrote perhaps the most vilely sexist piece ever to run in the New Republic, a free-floating exegesis of Hillary Clinton as an “Ice Queen, Drag Queen.” (New Republic, March 2, 1996)

5. Did the New Republic publish exceptional women writers? Sure: Katha Pollitt, Cynthia Ozick, Martha Nussbaum, Margaret
Talbot, Ruth Franklin, and others. That should be acknowledged, even though such names, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s stood out against a masthead and table of contents that looked like a baseball team’s roster.

6. Most of the New Republic‘s editors in the last 40 years would have called themselves feminists if asked — one exception is Fred Barnes, who is an anti-choice evangelical (Episcopalian) Christian (and more recently a Fox News blowhard). Yet their feminism was the most narrowly circumscribed version of liberal feminism: basically support for Roe v. Wade (although even that was often challenged in the magazine’s pages) and little else. Certainly no support for concrete policies to advance substantive equality and no interest in women’s voices (and women’s experiences) as having a valuable perspective not found in male writers.

7. The personal is, as the saying goes, political. One factor behind the New Republic’s gender problem is former owner Martin Peretz’s Harvard fetishism. Peretz used the magazine to create a kind of perpetual dorm room bull session, a place where the guys can talk about the serious issues (what’s wrong with the blacks? what’s wrong with the Palestinians? who should we be bombing now? etc.). Women, almost by definition, don’t belong in a bull session.

8. The New Republic’s gender problem intersected with its race problem. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the black mother on welfare occupied a special place in the magazine’s imagination as a prime villain, forever in need of chastisement and discipline lest her profligate ways and out of control fertility destroy the nation. That’s the meaning of this infamous cover.

9. The question of the New Republic and gender tie in with the ongoing reappraisals of the magazine’s legacy. The big claim made on behalf of the New Republic is that it is “liberalism’s central journal.” The question then should be asked, what does it mean for liberalism’s central journal to be so indifferent to feminism?

Post script:

The New Republic returned to the topic of Arthur Koestler’s abuse of women in a review by Tony Judt that ran the February 14, 2000. In that review Judt argues that Koestler’s “sideline” in assault and  rape should not effect his standing as a moral hero in the Cold War. To quote Judt:  “Reviewers of the English edition of this book have been much taken with the issue of Koestler’s sideline in rape, and have asked how far this should alter posterity’s view of him. But Koestler’s attitude towards women has never been in doubt — you have only to read his memoirs or some of the novels, notably Arrival and Departure. We now know that be raped the wife of a friend and forced his attentions on some reluctant women. This is deeply unattractive behavior. Yet Koestler was no moralist. He did not preach about human goodness or pose himself as an exemplar of anything. If it turned out that he was a closet racist, or had remained all his life a secret member of the Communist Party, or had privately financed violent terrorist organizations, then some of his publications would indeed seem very odd, and we should have to ask how far he wrote in good faith. But nothing he wrote about sex is in contradiction with his actions. And nothing he wrote about politics, or intellectuals, or the death penalty, depends for its credibility upon his sexual behavior.” About this review, all one can say is that women are human, Koestler’s moral standing comes from his writing on human rights, so the fact that he (as Judt acknowledges) raped at least one woman and forced himself on many more has some relevance in judging his status as a moral hero.

In their May 5, 2010 issue, the New Republic published a review of Michael Scammell’s Arthur Koestler biography. The reviewer, Paul Berman, The review is much taken up with the question of whether Koestler was a “hero” or not. It deals with the general abuse of women and rape allegations by not mentioning them. Berman does discuss in the last few paragraphs the double suicide. Berman notes that “domination and dependence” between Koestler and Cynthia might have been behind her joining in the suicide and concludes there was “there was something ghastly about him.”

So: three substantial review essays on Koestler in three decades, none coming to terms with the serious rape allegations and only one coming to terms with the likelihood that Koestler coerced his wife into suicide. And all concerned with Koestler’s heroism. To borrow Berman’s word, this is a ghastly record.

There is a further element of ghastliness to the Koestler business: The most serious, hard-to-refute rape allegation against Koestler was by the late Jill Craigie, who was married to the British politician Michael Foot (himself now deceased). Now, as it happens Foot was a contributor to the New Republic. So this is a rape that doesn’t exist in the abstract, it’s a rape that effected people in the magazine’s extended family. Yet it’s a rape the magazine either pretends didn’t happen or pooh-poohs as a “sideline” (to use Judt’s word).

chowcartoon

On Sunday, the Toronto Sun ran the above cartoon (by Anthony Donato) on this cartoon of Olivia Chow. Chow denounced the cartoon as “racist” and “sexist” (two characterizations I agree with). I thought it would be productive to find out what Paul Godfrey, who runs the large media outfit that is about to buy the Toronto Sun (and who ran the Sun years ago) thought about this. Our conversation from last night and today, carried out on email, is pasted below.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

My name is Jeet Heer. I’m a freelance writer — I’ve written for many publications including The New Yorker, The Guardian, the Globe and Mail. Many moons ago I used to work for the National Post, where I was a columnist.
I’m writing to you about a controversy over a cartoon that ran in the Toronto Sun, featuring Olivia Chow in a Mao Suit. You can see the cartoon here:
As you will see, the cartoon depicts Ms. Chow rather in the manner of a Kim Il-Jung, as a malevolent dwarf. The imagery calls to mind the depiction of Asians in “Yellow Peril” cartoons of the early 20th century.
Many people, including Chow herself, called this cartoon racist and sexist.
The Toronto Sun, which I understand you are in the process of purchasing, denies this charge. See here: https://twitter.com/GraphicMatt/status/526953920476626944
As the prospective owner of the Toronto Sun, I want to know whether you think this cartoon is, as the paper you are purchasing insists, not racist and not sexist?
Can you please answer this question. I will be happy to quote your answer (or non-answer) the article I am working on.
Best, Jeet Heer
Godfrey’s response:
Jeet, I did not see the cartoon in question so for that reason it is difficult to give you an opinion on it.
Secondly as a person who has been the the subject of jokes/ridicule etc in cartoons in many publications over the years I fully realize that newspaper cartoons poke fun at public figures surrounding serious topics. All you have to do is take a look at today’s newspapers.
I have learned from personal experience to smile and move on. The public usually do the same thing.
Pvg
My response:
Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you very much for your prompt and extended response. In terms of seeing the cartoon, it is widely available on the internet. I provided a link in my original email. Here is another: http://o.canada.com/news/olivia-chow-andy-donato-toronto-sun-racist-sexist-cartoon-535578
Since Mr. Donato will soon be in your employ and he’s the person most closely associated in the public mind with the Sun Media (having been at the Toronto Sun since its inception in 1971), perhaps you can look at the cartoon and offer an opinion.
Best,
[Jeet Heer]
Godfrey’s response:
I have now seen Andy Donato’s cartoon. I have always thought Donato to be one of the finest cartoonist in Canada. In fact, I continually refer to him as the Franchise of the Sun chain..
Having said that I repeat what I stated in my previous email to you. Cartoons in newspapers often poke fun at serious news items and that was what he is doing here. Donato is neither racist or sexist. I know that because I worked with him for almost 16 years,  He has often poked fun at me in cartoons for years making fun of my surgically corrected jaw.
People who enter all forms of public life may from time to time not like what a cartoonist produces. I do not believe he crossed the line of good taste on this cartoon.
[Paul Godfrey]
My response:
Thank you.
[Jeet Heer]
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

I reviewed the late William Patterson’s new biography of the writer Robert Heinlein for the New Republic. Because the New Republic is a general interest magazine, I focused my review on only one of major complaints against Patterson (that he lacked critical distance from Heinlein). But I had many more problems with Patterson which I thought wouldn’t be of interest to a New Republic readership but should be noted for the record. In general, these complaints grow from the initial problem noted in the New Republic article (lack of critical distance) but are more detailed.

In no particular order, the problems with the book are:

1. Lack of curiosity about Heinlein’s ties to the far right. Heinlein wrote an article for the October 1960 issue of The American Mercury titled “’Pravada’ Means ‘Truth’”. The interesting thing about this anti-communist article is the venue: by 1960 the American Mercury, once edited by H.L. Mencken but fallen on hard times, was an anti-Semitic far right journal. People who were otherwise very conservative – notably William F. Buckley and William Rusher, both of National Review – warned their fellow right-wingers not to publish in it. In fact, National Review had a policy that anyone who published in the American Mercury could not publish in the National Review. When you consider how racist National Review was in the 1950s, the embargo on the American Mercury is astonishing.  Heinlein had a very good record on anti-Semitism, having denounced it since the 1930s and even breaking friendships with anti-Semites. So what was he doing writing for the American Mercury (which had a jibe against Jews in the very issue Heinlein published in)? Patterson doesn’t ask.

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Image

1. A few thoughts, recycled from twitter, about Rob Ford and gangsterism. 2. This Josh Marshall post gives good summary of where things stand in Ford case: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/mystery-phone-call-emerges-in-rob-scandal. 3. Based on Josh Marshall post & Toronto Star reporting, it looks like there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Ford unleashed Lisi. 4. Evidence is circumstantial, so it’s entirely possible that Ford won’t face criminal charges. 5. But if we look at evidence we already have, Ford is best understood as a gangster (rather than just a buffoon). 6. Ford-as-gangster helps explain not just his behavior in trying to find crack video but also his political support. 7. Think of the Godfather: his power is not just based on violence but also in providing services to local community. 8. The mafia boss is the padrone. He looks after the little people. He helps you and when the time comes you support him against his enemies 9. Mafia-style governance flourishes in marginalized (often immigrant) communities where centralized state is distrusted or distant. 10. The mafia boss both provides services (in good times) but can also threaten violence (when things get rough). 11. Ford-as-gangster explains both his style of governance (small favors for those who call), his base (in marginal communities) & loyalty he expects and gets from follower. 12. Loyalty is key to the mafia boss system: you have to stick with the padrone no matter what. 13. “You can’t teach loyalty” — Doug Ford. The Godfather would understand. 14. Rumors about “dirty cops” who did Ford’s bidding are the most troubling thing about Ford story. 15. Mafia governance flourishes where people don’t trust the state — so “dirty cops” have a double function in Ford story. 16. If we take Ford-as-gangster model seriously, then Rob Ford represents much more serious crisis in Canadian politics than people realize 17. The mafia boss stands for “family values” despite his criminality — hence Ford’s strain of social conservatism. The family is all. 17. Ford doesn’t exist in isolation. His family are part of fabric of Canadian conservatism, both provincially and nationally. 18. We have a mafia mayor whose dad was a member of the provincial parliament, whose family friend was until recently cabinet minister. 19. Are we willing to think seriously about the unanswered questions? 20. To what degree has Ford family been shielded over the decades from consequences of their criminality by family connections? 21. How many “dirty cops” does Rob Ford know, and what have they done for him? 22. To what degree has investigation into Ford been hampered by possible “dirty cops” in Toronto Police Department? 23. Will any of the elite political figures who participated in rise of Rob Ford (everyone from John Tory to Harper) be held accountable? 24. We criticize immigrant communities for “no snitching” ethos. What about “no snitching” among the Canadian elite?

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)

 

I did a series of tweets about Leo Strauss, homosociality and homoeroticism. Because people expressed interest in seeing them in one place, I’ve reprinted them (in slightly edited form) below:

1. Trigger warning. I’m starting a twitter-essay on the sexual politics of Leo Strauss.

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Wajeha Al-Howaider

Wajeha Al-Howaider

The Saudi human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider and her colleague Fawzia Al-Oyouni, who have fought for such causes as the right of women in her country to drive, have been sentenced to 10-months in prison along with a two-year travel ban forbidding them from leaving the country. Their case should be of particular interest to Canadians because their supposed offense was trying to help an Canadian woman Nathalie Morin, who has repeatedly complained about being trapped in abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia.

Katha Pollitt explains the details:

They were accused of kidnapping and trying to help Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman married to a Saudi, flee the country in June 2011. Morin, who has said her husband locks her in the house and is abusive, has been trying for eight years to leave Saudi Arabia with her three children. (There’s a so-far-unsuccessful campaign, spearheaded by her mother, to get the Canadian government to intervene.) Al-Huwaider says they were responding to a frantic text message from Morin, who said her husband had gone away for a week and left her locked in the house without enough food or drinkable water. When they arrived at the house with groceries, they were arrested.

Both the Morin case and the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case are clear examples of human rights transcending national borders. The group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) has been doing excellent activism on these cases, pressing the Canadian government to stand up for human rights. Here is the MPV  statement on the Morin case and here is their comments on the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case. Both statements contain a helpful list of government officials to contact. The Pollitt column should also be read in full, as an extremely valuable background report. I’m writing to Thomas MacDonald, Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, about these cases, and would encourage readers of this blog to do the same.
Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he'll accept swarthy grand-kids but won't be happy about it.

Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he’ll accept swarthy grand-kids but won’t be happy about it.

Fifty years ago, Norman Podhoretz wrote a profoundly stupid article called “My Negro Problem – and Ours.” The article was published in Commentary magazine, which is marking the anniversary.

I say “profoundly stupid” advisedly because Podhoretz himself, despite his reprehensible politics, is not a dumb guy. In fact, he’s a gifted editor and polemicist. The article itself is sometimes praised for being an honest attempt to describe the seriousness of racism.

Yet, what other phrase than profoundly stupid can apply to an article that argues that the best solution to racism is miscegenation. At the end of the essay Podhoretz writes:  “I cannot see how [the dream of erasing color consciousness] will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation…. in my opinion the Negro problem can be solved in this country in no other way.”

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