Jacob Heilbrunn

Why Does Martin Peretz Hate the New Republic?

Martin Peretz is going to war again, or at least he thinks he is. The former owner of the New Republic began his intellectual career as a man of the left before he began drifting towards neoconservatism in the early 1970s. Now his drift appears to have been consummated. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peretz retails many of the grievances that the neocons historically directed toward his magazine. In the  Journal, which appears to be one of the few outlets that will publish him, Peretz complains that his former magazine is becoming a redoubt of leftism. Whether his account amounts to more than peevish rantings, however, is another matter.

Peretz, who most recently got into hot water for his musings about denying American Muslims their constitutional rights and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology, may not be the best judge of what constitutes the appropriate boundaries of debate about race in America. But he doesn't let that stop him. On the contrary, he assails New York Times editor Sam Tanenhaus for publishing a provocative piece that delved deeply into American political history called "Original Sin" about the Republican party and race. Merely raising the topic appears to be taboo for Peretz who declares but does not show why the essay is intellectually wanting. Nor, for that matter, does he acknowledge that Tanenhaus published a number of important pieces during Peretz's own tenure at the magazine.

Nevertheless, for all his indignation over Tanenhaus, Peretz's real aim is to depict himself as the victim of a terrible betrayal. Peretz suggests that he has been betrayed by Chris Hughes, the new owner of the magazine who is trying to revive it. According to Peretz,

What made the "Original Sin" issue unrecognizable to this former owner is that it established as fact what had only been suggested by the magazine in the early days of its new administration: The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.

Yikes! This is quite a claim to advance since only two issues of the magazine in its fresh incarnation have appeared. Peretz, however, is undaunted. He adds, "Mr. Hughes is not from the world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann, the old-school liberals who founded the `journal of opinion' in the hope that it would foment in its readers `little insurrections of the mind.'" But how does Peretz know that? And is the stuffy "world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann," as Peretz pretentiously puts it, something that is worthy of aspiration a century later? In any case, his dismissive depiction of Hughes is redolent of the worst kind of intellectual snobbery.

The preening Peretz goes on to boast about his own record as editor, pointing to his support of the Nicaraguan contras and Israel as the kind of heteredox positions on the left that testify to his own bravery. What he does not acknowledge, however, is that his increasing intellectual rigidity and incessant fulgurations ended up running the magazine into the ground. His views were not fresh and surprising and insightful; they were utterly predictable. His revelations were only revelatory to himself. Now that he has been stripped of his blog at TNR, he can only broadcast them occasionally and is lurching ever further into cranky irrelevance. By now Peretz isn't worthy of scorn but pity.