Commentary’s Podhoretz, Myers Split

Broken Iphone 4Professor D.G. Myers has been writing for Commentary magazine for many years, and for the past 18 months he has been under contract for their literary blog. Last week, he was told to stop writing for a while. Editor John Podhoretz emailed him after seeing a post on Commentary’s literary blog which Podhoretz did not consider literary. It was policial.

Podhoretz expalins, “I told David that he could write at will on his blog without editorial supervision, as long as he stayed within the confines of the literary. … [With the post, “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage”] David had decided unilaterally to convert Literary Commentary into a sociopolitical blog without a moment’s consultation. This I considered an uncollegial and insubordinate act,and I’m afraid it was not the first of these.”

Myers says, “I did not conceive of my post as political; it was, to my mind, a literary and philosophical defense of gay marriage, derived from my reading, utterly silent on questions of public policy.” And he praises Podhoretz for being a great editor.

Many Internet voices have reacted to this news, accusing the Commentary editor of being the very old white guy they say Republicans need to shove out of the lifeboat. Podhoretz reminds them that he and other editors had approved a post Myers wrote for their main political blog in support of gay marriage, so the subject of Myers’ post on the literary blog was not the issue. Myers still thinks it is:

All of this was naïve of me—gobsmackingly, blindingly naïve. My wife says that I have “never learned how to play the game.” The argument is the only thing that matters to me—and too often I have pursued it in heedless disregard of any other consideration. What’s more, as an academic for more than twenty years, I have become too comfortable with intellectual autonomy; I clearly and admittedly did not show the proper deference to Mr Podhoretz’s authority. On the other hand, he had approved a post by me the day before—Wednesday, the day after the election—calling upon Republicans to “drop their opposition to gay marriage.” It never dawned on me that a followup to that earlier post, developing one of its premises, would be wrong.

Was I fired for writing in defense of gay marriage? Well, I think it’s equally naïve to think that I would have been sacked if I had used any other political topic as an occasion for literary and philosophical reflections—the topic of illegal immigration, for example. I’m the last one who could say for sure.

I find it troubling that they didn’t speak on the phone about this. It’s also disturbing that Myers went public with the whole thing after several of his emails were not immediately answered. What was the rush? Still more disturbing, though only tangental to this event, is the subject of the posts in question. For one thing, when is a philosophical post about a political issue not a political post? Does it become political only after the writer says, “Support Proposition #1,” and not until then?

But the larger issue is redefining marriage. Myers asks, “If marriage is everything we conservatives say it is, why should we want to deny its moral benefits to gays?” What moral benefits can be applied to an immoral relationship? That’s nonsense (I don’t mean to be disrespectful.) What framework do we have for declaring anything moral? Public opinion?

7 thoughts on “Commentary’s Podhoretz, Myers Split”

  1. Myers is obviously working within the framework of traditional, pro-religious conservative atheism, along with Tom Wolfe (who he quotes directly). The strand of thought can be traced back for centuries. This is much akin to Jefferson’s beliefs, and (to a lesser extent) Franklin’s (a fact which might help when trying to understand debates about our Founding Fathers.)

    (His line of reasoning, btw, is one of the reasons I say my faith in God keeps me liberal. If Christianity is just a “social institution” which promotes our collective welfare, then I shouldn’t care if it hypocritically is used as a mouthpiece to support unjust wars that promote American interests. If there is a God, however, He will judge the nations with no respect for traditions, and only respect for his immutable laws.)

    From his perspective, things are declared “moral” because that is good for the public good. Religious people, for instance, have been proved to be happier, more respectful of laws (if they believe in Hell), &c. There are philosophical problems with this view, I think, but it has been prevalent for quite a while. Inevitably, it leads to a desire for reforming religious traditions not out of a heartfelt desire to center them on their core beliefs, but out of a conviction that the intellectual can know what forms of religion are healthiest for society. Hence Jefferson’s famous revisionary life of Jesus, with the miracles cut out.

    I imagine whether his post was “political” or not, in his editor’s eyes, was less important than whether it was (properly speaking) “literary.” I imagine he thought that the prominent blockquote from a contemporary literary figure was enough to put it in that category, while obviously he wasn’t. I imagine if instead he had discussed the same argument impassively, attributing it to Tom Wolfe and others, he would have had fewer problems.

  2. I may have thought as you did about impassively presenting the argument mostly, if not entirely, in the words of literary authors and critics. If gay marriage is discussed in a couple novels, say, Myers might have presented the supporting arguments characters made and how the narrative seems to support it. I don’t know. Podhoretz says he chafed against Myers repeatedly and was thinking of halting his blogging for reasons before this one, but something held him back. Maybe he wasn’t irritated about it enough yet.

    I don’t follow you, of course, on your faith keeping you liberal in politics. Maybe we should have a knockdown-dragout over it. I think of liberal politics in American today as a tolerance of abortion primarily, a belief in the benevolence of government people and programs, a view of the underprivileged as victims who cannot gain independence… wow, the more I try to list things, the more I see how much I distrust the moral judgement of political liberals in office (not necessarily the voters). So again, why does your faith keep you liberal and how do you see conservatism?

  3. I don’t tolerate abortion. I don’t tolerate an easy celebration of violence (I side with the pro-peace, though not pacifist, side of Christianity.) I believe the government, like the King of the Old and New Testaments, should champion the cause of the poor and oppressed against the powerful, who are exceptionally enabled to exploit and oppress others. I believe that God champions in particular the poor, the migrant, the widowed, and the orphaned, and that the King (i.e. government) is to act in part as his viceroy. (Of course, this doesn’t allow Christians to disavow responsibility–we ought to assume that all kingdoms, powers, &c. of this present age are imperfect and sinful at best.)

    In short: I believe strongly in social justice, environmental legislation (i.e. both correctly managing God’s creation and serving our unborn grandchildren), human rights (including rights for immigrants, foreign combatants, and foreign civilians), &c.

    I don’t actually identify as a card-carrying liberal. In short, at its philosophical roots, I think liberalism tends towards anarchism–the worship of the individual, and the errant belief that the unsocialized individual is morally perfect. However, traditional conservativism has always worshipped the Society, embracing the traditional forms of power which, however moral or immoral, at least have the support that they have actually supported orderly society.

    Instead, I try (imperfectly) to worship God. But right now, I fear that God is more often confused with the conservative idol of Society (or, worse, the libertarian idol of the Invisible Hand) than He is with liberalism. At least it is so in most of Texas.

  4. That’s interesting. Thank you for talking about it with me. I wouldn’t have accused you of tolerating abortion, but do you not see that Democrats (or liberals in general) will not advance pro-life issues at all ever? Conservatives are the only ones fighting for that. I can understand a desire to stop what might be a warfare-disposition among conservatives (esp. neo-cons as they are called), but defending our country is difficult. Liberals don’t help ease the matter, because they seem to say, “War is only a last resort,” when they appear to mean it’s not an option at all. In other life issues, cloning or scientific experimentation, parenting and adoption, human trafficking to some degree, I believe conservatives are leading the way.

    You make a good point on an idolatry of society and individuality. They are probably other ways to view it. Liberalism, as I see it, undermines society by claiming to stand for individual freedom while opposing what makes that freedom possible. If everyone should have basic healthcare, everyone should pay for it at reasonable rates. Why should those who are abusing their children by buying cigarettes over food have their neighbors pay for their medicines? Subsidizing poverty will not liberate anyone, but politicians of all stripes are fighting over how they should steal wealth from productive citizens to continue their government charity.

  5. [Apologies in advance for this long post. I don’t want to rant and will listen to any counter arguments (indeed I actively seek them out). But I have an instinctual aversion to leaving any possible argument or fact unsaid. :-P. What is below ought, therefore, to be taken as my rationale for my broadly leftist, pro-life, self-identified “moderate” politics.]

    I don’t believe that the Left will never go against abortion–though I admit that right now, those who favor the illegalization of abortion are losing ground fast, both in the Right and the Left. (And we have more grounds in the Right.) There will have to be some new organization of political ideology. One famous Catholic bishop railed against abortion using the language of human rights. Since the Left tends to be more eager to listen to such rhetoric than the Right, I won’t say never. But right now, it is a major point of disappointment in Obama that while he works to provide dignity and opportunity for all, he excludes the unborn (and, apparently, foreign citizens as well.) I am convinced Romney would have been little better, which is why (despite my hatred of Ayn Rand) I chose to vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primaries.

    Conservatives are indeed leading the way in many human rights issues, which may testify to a tectonic shift. The bleak truth about human trafficking activism is that the far left and the religious Right generally unite in pursuit of reasonable solutions, while the moderate Left is, as a whole, purposefully blind to the issue.

    The prime issues where I lean hardest left (now that the Left is embracing the Patriot Act and Gitmo) are the environment and education.

    Without government oversight or some external force, there is no reason for the free market to disincentivize pollution. I believe (along with virtually every scientist I know) in human-generated global warming, and I believe this is a justice issue. If we pollute the atmosphere, the poorest third of the world, who live largely in costal regions, will be pummeled. Given their poverty, they will not have the resources America recently showed off to deal with the tragedy. (I give to various aid groups when disasters hit, but here an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.)

    At a more domestic level, justice is complicated. While I tend to go left in my economic policy (while listening to conservatives, who tend to focus more on understanding our economic system), the most defensible and sound plank in my political beliefs is that a quality public education system is required for the functioning of democracy. I happen to think that it will be more useful to institute this system at a state level, but I’m not going to wait around while funding at all levels is continually decreased. Until states start picking up the ball, I want national funding increased so that we have reasonable class sizes, teachers paid what they are worth in the global marketplace (by international standards, our teachers are remarkably overworked and underpaid), and better local oversight. I keep my eye closely on school district elections, for instance, which I feel are far more powerful than Presidential elections, taken as a whole. And yes, even in a flat-tax system (as opposed to ours, which punishes the working rich), the wealthy members of our society would pay more than the poor. That’s fine; America provided them with a relatively educated society, so it only makes sense that they would be forced to pay back their debt to the next generation.

    I recognize the fact that many people take advantage of federal programs and subsidies, but don’t see the true free-loaders as an excuse to take an axe to programs. That said, give me innovative welfare-to-work solutions–especially at a local level–and I will gladly support them.

  6. Unfortunately, it seems Democrats in congress and many other public offices are not willing to support welfare-to-work solutions. I’m told this administration has largely overturned the successful reforms made by Congress in 1997. And our education system is a great example of what I mean by undermining the goals liberalism claims to pursue. The NEA appears to protect teacher jobs, not children’s education, and assume the basics are being taught while they press to add sex ed and other frankly wild schemes to the program. They are propagandists, not teachers.

    I’m not sure what the national dept. of ed. does beyond getting in the way of some schools, but I’m willing to believe it isn’t the largest waste of Washington time, so it can stay while we cut funding for other programs.

    I completely disagree with you on global warming, but we don’t have to discuss it. I agree with you on your description of human trafficking. I just think conservatives who want to keep prostitution illegal under reasonable laws have the higher ground over liberals who argue for sexual deviancy everywhere except when someone says they don’t want it (which becomes more unenforceable the more it grows).

    The downsides of conservatism are similar to those of libertarianism. We need to help people gain independence so they can live healthy, moral lives. That requires the mature helping the immature, fighting the good fight everywhere, and never giving up.

  7. The list of issues affected by this election is mind-boggling.

    In addition to the educational, environmental, moral, welfare, regulatory and other issues already discussed, May I add the issue of National Sovereignty. At least three UN Treaties or Conventions have been sitting in a Senate Committee’s agenda drawer waiting for public furor against them to die down long enough to slip them through the ratification process.

    The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)would all three subject US citizens, federal, state and local officials, and even the US Constitution to United Nations Sovereignty.

    These treaties have all been signed off by the Administration to await ratification by the Senate. So far, every move to bring them to a committee vote, let alone a floor vote has brought a deluge of calls lighting up the capital switchboard, leading to putting them on the back burner. Unfortunately, action on these treaties has only been delayed. They are yet to be defeated. Time will tell if the proponents in the Administration will be able to push these through the new Senate.

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