December 22, 2017
The journal Quillette goes by the motto “principle before affiliation.” In fact, the opposite is the truth, I learned a little while back when the editors, Claire Lehman and Jamie Palmer, accepted an essay of mine. Shortly thereafter I sent them an early draft of my piece on Amy Wax. In that version I’d touched on the Charlottesville tragedy, distinguishing between white supremacists and nationalists who happen to be white. Like my linking to the pro-Trump American Greatness blog, that was too much for these “centrists.” They rejected not only the second work but also the first, which, again, they’d already accepted and had just edited for publication. Neither Lehman nor Palmer is from the U.S., and neither has spent much time in it, as far as I can tell. Their knowledge of this country is palpably superficial. Still, the mere thought of being associated with “a white supremacist”—which, of course, I am not—or with a person who referenced a Trump-friendly website was sufficient to prompt these members of Cowards Incorporated to have nothing to do with my writing.
Both are centrists. That is a very appealing position for some, because you appear wise by being “moderate.” Meanwhile, you don’t have to stand for anything. In practice, that is the great value of centrism. It is naturally a coward’s home, the semblance of wisdom, at no cost. What makes cowards so detestable is that not only are they exceedingly fearful; they usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Thus, in an ignorant article, “Paranoid Paleoconservatives,” Palmer writes of President Trump’s inaugural address that
even the passages promising national renewal were suffocated by the unrelenting sourness of the delivery. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land” Trump intoned grimly. “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. America First.”
For a moment, liberal internationalism seemed to have been vanquished at a stroke.
Palmer’s sensibility feels “suffocated” because the “grim” president put “America First.” What “sourness” in putting your own nation before others! Palmer evidently prefers “liberal internationalism,” it having hollowed out nations throughout the West.
Readers of Quillette will be happy, however, to know that Claire Lehman is willing to communicate with them—for $5. “Pay only if you get a response,” as she says in her Earn.com profile. Very amusing, this, because a person who’d take the trouble to set up such an account is almost certain to respond. After all, if Lehman simply wanted people to be able to contact her, she’d put her e-mail address on the Quillette website or on her Twitter. She will talk to one for $5. Well, then, seeing as she is for sale, it seems a fair question what Lehman would do for $50 or $500.
The history of literature is full of geniuses—Blake, Baudelaire, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Hopkins, and many others—who meant little or nothing to the reading public while they were alive. Today, as in the past, there are relatively few people who can recognize what only certain writers have the ability to do. Meanwhile, as we have seen, in the age of democracy and mass communication (again, mass emotional confusion), never has it been so difficult for writers forced to play along with this sham morality.