The Sin of Dissent: How Marty Peretz Could Have Saved the Center-Left That Purged Him


Though Marty Peretz is, as always, still a leftist politically, he is unwavering in his support for the state of Israel’s existence and its geographic placement in the historical home of the Jewish people. That is in contrast with many of the young intellectuals Peretz groomed, who have bought into the notion that the only appropriate location for the state of Israel is under the bus.

Now reviled as a “bigot” and a “racist,” Peretz’s fall from leftist grace has picked up considerable momentum because of Peretz’s public recognition of two things: that Obama’s election was bad for Israel, and that the Palestinians are not ready for statehood, nor desiring of peace.

But the garment rending over Peretz’s supposed descent reached its apex with this week’s publication of New York Magazine’s profile of Peretz by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. Here’s the subheadline to the story:

“For decades, Martin Peretz taught at Harvard and presided over The New Republic—a fierce, if controversial, lion among American intellectuals and Zionists. Now, having been labeled a bigot, taunted at his alma mater, and stripped of his magazine, he has found peace in a place where there is little: Israel.”

And some portions of the article painfully detail how far he has fallen at the institutions at which he himself had become an institution:

“Here is Marty Peretz in crisis. It is September 25, several weeks before he is scheduled to depart for Israel, and he has just parked his Prius at Harvard, on his way to a set of receptions that have been designed, in part, to honor him. It is the 50th anniversary of Harvard’s social-studies program, a radical’s redoubt where Peretz spent four decades, first as the program’s director and later as a lecturer. Peretz is fifteen minutes late to the ceremony, and he passes a crowd of about 25 protesters facing the lecture hall. He notices one sign in particular: MARTY PERETZ IS A RACIST RAT. But the protesters have their backs turned to him, and he manages to slide through unnoticed. He has that momentary, juvenile feeling of escape, of having gotten away with something.”

Predictably, the fact that Peretz suffered the indignity of having to “escape” protesters at Harvard was celebrated on the left, and in particularly sadistic fashion at Talking Points Memo, the leftist blog run by Josh Marshall, which has a curious habit of ridiculing those who warn of the threat of Islamist terrorism.

Much of Peretz’s more recent statements that have garnered outrage (and made him the star villain of this New York Times column) have been printed on Peretz’s New Republic blog, The Spine (which is now being discontinued). The Spine can best be described as Peretz thinking out loud—which is why it’s so frightening to other so-called “intellectuals”; one gets the impression that to truly understand the nature of the conflict between the West and Islamism is to think like Peretz in certain situations. The alternative is to choose not to understand.

Marty Peretz is the Ghost of Enlightened Liberalism Future.

So progressives, haunted and horrified by the prospect of undergoing such a metamorphosis, have a plan: remain unenlightened, and at least they won’t turn into Peretz.

In the introduction to his book The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman thanks Peretz specifically for publishing his essay in The New Republic that (unintentionally) laid the groundwork for the book. To me, the most relevant passage of the essay is the following, written in the context of Berman’s discussion of three highly respected author-intellectuals who lavished praise on the Islamist Tariq Ramadan:

“It is not entirely obvious to me that [Ian] Buruma has read very much by Ramadan, nor that Stéphanie Giry has read more than a single book, though she has met the man. As for [Timothy] Garton Ash, he confesses in his New York Review essay that he bases his judgment on having heard Ramadan speak, which may suggest that he has read nothing by Ramadan at all. But no matter: a conventional wisdom has plainly convened. And in this fashion Tariq Ramadan, by acquiring a brilliant fame and refracting its rays in one country after another, has succeeded in brightly illuminating two very different, murky, and related developments during the last few years: a large new development among select circles of pious Muslims in Europe, and not just in Europe; and an equally new and still more remarkable development among the normally impious journalists and intellectuals of Europe and America.”

It may sound outrageous, but they simply didn’t want to know the real Tariq Ramadan. Because those who know what Ramadan truly stands for do not call themselves liberals (in the classical sense of the word) and do not lavish praise on him.

Not to pick on Marshall, but TPM attacks Peretz far more than it even discusses the menace of Islamism. Instead, it attacks Peretz for attacking Islamism. It is only an example, however, of a broader issue on the left, which the kerfuffle over Peretz has brought to the surface once again.

Peretz ventured out of the echo chamber and got mugged by reality. The rest of the center-left locked the door behind him.