Now celebrating its twenty-fifth year, The New Criterion (subscribe here) has in my view established itself as the preeminent American cultural review. Dinesh D’Souza opens his response to the title of my essay on his new book with silly disparagement of the New Criterion, based on its small circulation. D’Souza to the contrary notwithstanding, if you are not familiar with the New Criterion, you should be. Mark Steyn, for example, was until recently its regular theater critic; Brooke Allen has succeeded to the theater beat. National Review managing editor Jay Nordlinger is TNC’s regular music critic and James Bowman is TNC’s regular media critic. Each issue of the magazine is full of superb essays and reviews such as John Simon’s essay on Proust (registration required) and Mark Steyn’s on Kingsley Amis (free access), both in the March issue.
Together with Hilton Kramer, Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of the magazine. Roger and managing editor James Panero invited me to write a review of D’Souza’s book for TNC. Roger had already read the book and written a critical review for National Review. I asked Roger if he would like to respond to D’Souza’s linked comments including the disparagement of TNC. Roger confined himself to D’Souza’s book:
You ask if I have read Dinesh’s response to your article in The New Criterion: yes. I thought it a sad and preposterous piece of work–not unlike the book, alas. It also illustrates the often overlooked fact that the preposterous and the malevolent are not mutually exclusive: they can, and often do, cohabit quite comfortably. Many conservatives have criticized The Enemy at Home; Dinesh promises to “expose their errors of fact and logic, and their massive ignorance of Islam.” I await the corrections. But it is worth noting that the subject at hand–who is responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11–doesn’t require much knowledge of Islam. What it requires is an understanding of the sort of homicidal mania that inspires Islamic radicals. To pretend otherwise is (as Bishop Berekley said in another context) to stir up a cloud of dust and then complain that you cannot see. I might also point out that “Islamophobia” is a misnomer. A phobia is an irrational or groundless fear. Nothing could be more rational or well grounded than a fear of radical Islam.
Dinesh has done some good work in the past–indeed, I have praised him in the pages of that magazine he no longer reads–but this book is more than a disappointment, more than a shoddy piece of work: it is a disgrace. And it is not just an intellectual and (ultimately) a moral disgrace, it is a politically dangerous disgrace: first, because it illegitimately reinforces certain leftish stereotypes about conservatives and, second, because it systematically ignores or misrepresents the nature of the Islamic threat to Western civilization. Dinesh has always courted cheap controversy for the sake of selling himself–it was one of the least attractive aspects of his road show with Stanley Fish following the publication of Illiberal Education–but his calculation that notoriety leads to sales which lead to acclamation and success has foundered on the moral vacuum at the center of this book. He has made himself ridiculous–but it is the ridiculousness not of a buffoon but an agent provocateur (the moral being that buffoons can be dangerous as well as laughable). I am not sure whether it is blindness or active misrepresentation of the truth that is chiefly responsible for The Enemy at Home, but the sad fact is that the book instantiates the charge contained in its title.
PAUL adds: Early in a baseball season long ago, New York Giants manager Bill Terry was asked about the prospects of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Terry responded, “is Brooklyn still in the league?” Late that same year, the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of the pennant race.
Dinesh D’Souza responded to Scott’s criticsim of his book in part by asking whether the the New Criterion, where Scott’s review appeared, is still in the league. As Scott notes, it very much is — a fact demonstrated by the impact that Scott’s review has had throughout the blogosphere and by virtue of being reprinted in the Opinion Journal.
The power of an idea is not purely, or even largely, a function of whether it appears in a mass circulation publication.