New York City
I wish I could say I was surprised that The Nation assigned a hatchet man to trash my book The Intellectuals and the Flag: the ever on-message Daniel Lazare, who’s sputtered against my work for years [“Pledging Allegiance,” March 20]. On his Long March to expose apostasy and dig up Fragments of the True Left, no scruple impedes Lazare.
Because Lazare is perhaps The Nation‘s back of the book’s main go-to guy for heresy hunts, it’s worth a fair number of words to see how shoddy his work is. His method is part fabrication, part demonology, part projection. Even when he tenders an idea, he warps it with his steel-trap either-or mind. Thus, when he makes the reasonable point that one could respond to the attacks of September 11 “as a New Yorker, as a human being, as a secularist or as an anti-imperialist”–that is, one didn’t have to respond as an American, perish the thought–he overlooks the many passages in my title essay where I do respond precisely as a New Yorker, a human being and, in fact, as an anti-imperialist, as well as an American. Lazare thinks I had to choose. That’s his thuggish mind, not mine.
Lazare is a champion cherry-picker–he should apply for a job in Dick Cheney’s office. In his many paragraphs of rant against what he takes to be my view of patriotism, there appear exactly two quotations from my book. Since Lazare is too busy to quote me, I refer the interested reader to a sentence in which, truth be told, I anticipate the likes of Lazare: “Viewing the ongoing politics of the Americans as contemptibly shallow and compromised, the demonological attitude naturally rules out patriotic attachment to those very Americans.” Lazare illustrates the same point when he imputes to me the view that “responding as an American meant seeing 9/11 in essentially nationalist terms as a case of turbanned foreigners visiting evil on an innocent United States.” Every claim that he puts in my mouth in this sentence is false–and refuted in the book.
Lazare is so contemptuous of the contrast I draw between patriotism and nationalism that he can’t be troubled to note it. So I end up on his anathema list along, I suppose, with the fellow who said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”–Mark Twain, who was also, I believe, a human being, a secularist and an anti-imperialist, as am I, though I may not have recited the loyalty oath prescribed by Inquisitor Lazare.
Most loathsomely, Lazare concocts the impression that I offer “a halfhearted defense of the war in Iraq,” and that my “thesis” is “that the war was a well-intentioned, if badly executed, attempt to rid the world of a noxious tyrant.” This is where tendentiousness rounds the corner and heads for dementia. Here is how Lazare works: He quotes exactly nothing from my book that says such a thing. There is nothing: I wrote against the war, spoke against it in many venues, marched against it, vigiled against it. Here is one sentence from the book: “By the time George W. Bush declared war without end against an ‘axis of evil’…I felt again the old anger and shame at being attached to a nation–my nation–ruled by runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, playing fast and loose with the truth, their lives manifesting supreme loyalty to private (though government-slathered) interests yet quick to lecture dissenters about the merits of patriotism.” On the next page, I criticize the Democrats for ducking the issue in 2002.