For most observers, Leon Wieseltier's latest attack on me as an anti-Semite, without even the candor to say so (since that would contradict his previous categorical refutation of the idea), may seem somewhat over the top. And, as many have already noted, there is a long history here, which it is unseemly to disinter and tedious to recount.
But I do want to note that it is a history of deep love and friendship and mentorship, for which I shall always be deeply grateful, as well as of eventually profound animosity. The day I sero-converted to HIV, a fact I couldn't tell anyone (even my mother who was hospitalized with severe depression at the time), he took me into his home and cared for me like a brother. He is a man capable of immense kindness, of brilliant humor, and is probably the funniest single person I have ever come across. I also deeply respect his quite remarkable legacy as editor of the literary section of the New Republic which I was honored to edit for a while under his guidance. In the good old days, I took him to gay bars (he has not a shred of homophobia); as a Jew and a Catholic, we read Buddhist scriptures together. We were, in fact, somewhat painfully alike in many ways: religious traditionalists whose reverence for our faiths was also marked by our rebellion within them. We share a commitment to secularism and religion, these days a very rare combination. His mentor was Isaiah Berlin; mine Michael Oakeshott. Their differences are fascinating but minor - and they too, sadly, came to despise each other.
Although the collapse of our friendship was among the most hurtful of my life, and for which I take my own share of responsibility, I remain an admirer of his intellect. I have tried to move on, and although I have occasionally thrown a tease about his sometimes impenetrable prose, or got him to make a factual correction, I also posted this quite recently of a review he wrote for the NYTBR:
This is a very pithy summary of a view of politics and religion that I share and that Leon helped me appreciate and understand. The quote is an hors d'oeuvre before the main course, however, which is this essay: clear, stringent, restrained where necessary, vicious when warranted ... and, well, humane. It's an important essay because within it, there pulsates a whole slew of vital issues where some level of contradiction and tension is far more defensible than their opposites: being a Jew and an American, being a conservative who can see the role of liberalism in the West (and vice-versa), and being a secular citizen with profound respect for and engagement with religious truth.
I think it's the best thing Wieseltier has written in memory - and reminds me of what an immense and powerful talent he remains.
People have referred to this contretemps as the continuation of a tit for tat. More tit than tat, I'd say. But his newest charge deserves treatment beyond this personal history, because it is a very grave one.