High-minded cultural journal New Criterion has had a strange adjustment to Internet age. The monthly intellectual review boasts heady criticism on piano recitals, Matisse, and ballet--and has no pictures or illustrations. Yet in the March issue, the editors made an unusual stab at engaging the Web: they responded to commenters in print.
There are a handful of dispassionate comments, admiring or critical as the case may be, but the vast majority are wildly, hysterically vituperative. They make for an interesting case study. When we turned to Dr. Daniels to write about Anne Heller’s new biography of Rand, we did so because of his skills as a cultural critic. Judging by the response to his essay, we might have turned to him for his skills as a psychiatrist specializing in cases of acute megalomania, cognitive dysfunction, and kindred pathologies.
They gave each comment a number, alluding to one as "commenter #4." It's not only the use of esoteric vocabulary in combating uncouth readers that's so intriguing--it's the sheer length of their response in a medium where short-form rules:
[#4] This hit job comes close to matching the most dishonest review probably ever written of any book—Whittaker Chambers’ review of Atlas Shrugged …This paragraph is one of eight comprising the editorial team's rebuttal. Needless to say, the commenting culprit is probably long gone.
Commenter #4, quoted above, mentions Whittaker Chambers’s famously devastating review of Atlas Shrugged, which appeared in National Reviewin 1957. Among the many interesting things about it was Chambers’s acknowledgment of the fact that “a great many of us [conservatives] dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does.” Statism in all its many forms, the welfare state, liberal sanctimoniousness, the culture of dependency: most conservatives are at one with Rand in regarding them with a jaundiced eye. And it is precisely this element in Rand’s world view—her rejection of what Tocqueville called Democratic Despotism—that has given her work a new lease on life among “tea partiers” and others who challenge the newly regnant statism in America. Hence the widespread popularity of Rand’s character John Galt and sympathy for “going Galt,” i.e., Just Saying No to the many violations of personal liberty perpetrated by an omnivorous, socialistically inclined state.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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