Having very recently published an autobiography, Encounters, featuring famous and near-famous people I have known, two lessons came out of my writing experience. First of all, most of my figures, who had once been friends and mentors, like Murray Rothbard, Robert Nisbet and Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, are no longer around and therefore hard to reproduce. These subjects live on in my selective memories or else in the pictures, books and letters they left behind. Although these personalities are put on display for the benefit of a later generation, posthumous depictions do not do full justice to any of them. For example, Murray Rothbard, as those who knew him and then read my book could testify, was a more vivid presence than the scholar I tried to bring to life from memory. Something else renders my depictions less than totally accurate. More than a bit of the biographer inevitably goes into what he does, and so it is not just the figure portrayed but the portraitist who shapes the image. Needless to say, there is a lot of me as well as those I evoke in Encounters.
Second, I am appalled by the animosity that movement conservative organizations and publications have exhibited in trying to black out my work. My book was meant to be a considered recollection of recent history in which all partisanship would be laid aside. Jeffrey Hart noted in a blurb that my work “would be indispensable for any future history of the conservative movement.” Unlike my study two years ago, on the American conservative movement, which expresses a preference for Taft Republicans over Buckleyites and a fortiori neoconservatives, my autobiography is not explicitly polemical. Indeed my explanations as to why the neoconservatives and I have not been compatible avoid opening old wounds. I make a point of dealing only with figures I could write about sympathetically. This is not a work conceived to settle old scores.
Yet the usual crowd is making sure that, like the four or five monographs bearing my name that preceded it, this book goes nowhere on the market. So far it has not been reviewed, nor is it likely that it ever will, in any of the outlets under liberal-neoconservative supervision (to make a distinction without a difference). Yesterday I received word that Heritage, despite repeated requests from the publisher, refused to schedule me as a speaker. Apparently this oracle of GOP intelligence has made it a policy not to allow speakers to address its staff on “autobiographical works,” unless an exception must be made, as in the case of a tasteless Jewish comedian who recently spoke at Heritage about his conversion to a neoconservative foreign policy. This speaker had just published a work on the need for a neoconservative-directed government which Heritage was busily promoting. Presumably the volume in question was not an autobiography; otherwise the comedian would not have been allowed to speak to a full house of Heritage employees, who applauded him with all the gusto associated with the way Stalin’s underlings received his addresses at party congresses.
The childish rebuff suffered at the hands of Heritage might well go into an abrasive sequel to Encounters if there were some possibility that the usual suspects would not black out this publication as well. At sixty-seven I’ve come around to the view that a very small circle of self-appointed experts determine which author receives attention where. These experts live in a spacious tent, which extends from David Brooks, Max Boot and Bill Kristol leftward to the interlocking staffs of The New Republic, New York Review of Books,and Sunday New York Times Book Review Section. One might describe the range of views among these luminaries as the measurable distance at a luncheon reception for Norman Podhoretz between Sam Tanenhaus’s shirt cuff and the salt shaker in front of Christopher Hitchens. I suspect an equally rich range of opinions was present among the priestly class of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom or among members of the Soviet politburo. How great it is to live with intellectual diversity! And of course we should exert ourselves mightily until we have brought a similar level of discourse to the rest of the solar system. Perhaps, in accordance with much of the highbrow opinion in the tent, we should start with Iran. In fact I would be delighted to do exactly this, if we could move everyone in the big tent to Teheran.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.