tv Norman Podhoretz Discusses Making It CSPAN May 14, 2017 7:00am-8:20am EDT
time magazine's jeffrey kluger reports on nasa's attempt to reach the moon in apollo 8, and dan hampton recalls charles lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight. watch for many of the authors in the near future on booktv on c-span2. [inaudible conversations] >> okay. i think we're ready to to start. [inaudible conversations] good evening, everybody. good evening. i'm eric colin, and on behalf of the tikvah society, i'm very pleased to welcome you to tonight's conversation. our chairman, roger, really should be the one giving this introduction, and i know this
evening especially would have meant a great deal to him. unfortunately, he's a bit under the weather, is so he sent me in his stead. i'm humbled and honored to make the introduction. it's been said that there's the story and then the real story and then the story of how the story came to be told. the book whose 50th anniversary we celebrate tonight, "making it," is an important story any way you look at it. [laughter] and tonight we're going to tell the story behind the story. in his book, norman says that all writers who become famous go through ups and downs. these fluctuations, he says, reveal less about the writer's actual work than they do about the changing fashions of the times. here's how he put it in his own words 50 years ago. every morning a stock market report comes out on reputations in new york.
it is invisible, but those who have eyes to see can read it. did so and so have dinner at jackie kennedy's apartment last night? up five points. was so and so not invited to meet the latest russian poet? down an eighth. did parson review neglect to invite so and so to participate in a symposium? down two. well, little did norman know when he wrote those words that his own stock was about to experience an incredibly deep bear market of its own. the early signs were, let us say, disappointing even before the book was even published. imagine that your prospective publisher, farrar strauss, has given you a hefty advance, and after reading your manuscript they tell you, keep the money, keep the book and under no serbs are we going to publish -- no circumstances are we going to publish it?
the advice from norman's best friend was to throw the whole thing in the garbage. all this before even a single reviewer had trashed the book which happened fast on the heels of publication. but as the saying goes, if you live long enough, you see everything. nor podhoret,z, blessedly, has lived long enough that his book has been dubbed one of the 20th century classics. it's the re-issuing, if you hold up the book again -- [laughter] that we celebrate tonight. see for yourself, get your very own copy right here in the library what an incredible reversal. just goes to show that all truth passes through three stages. first, ridicule. then violent opposition.
and then acceptance as self-evident. when you read the book today, it feels as relevant as it did when it first came out. human nature doesn't change, except that back then people didn't reveal their private feelings and aspirations publicly the way norman did. and he's such a good writer that then or now no one's self-reflections carry as much punch as his do. tonight we'll tell the story about why was it that norman'sen candidness and honesty created such an incredible stir, and who better to talk about it than father and son, norman and john, the distinguished editor of commentary. and while normans' classic "making it" is very much a book about ambition, i know i stand here, like you, with great humility in the presence of true intellectual excellence. for when people ask how to understand political thought, some might say realize strauss.
to understand politics and culture, read irving crystal. foreign policy? henry kissinger. but if someone were to ask you who should you read to understand all of these disciplines, we'd answer, read norman podhoretz. all the the rest is, dare i say it, commentary. [laughter] john, norman? [applause] >> this is the first time that we have ever appeared in public together. i am turning 56 in a couple of weeks, you are 87. this book, which was published when i was 6, is dedicated in part to me, to my sister ruthie, my sister naomi and my late sister rachel, and it is described in the dedication to whom this is in a way a letter.
and i think it's a letter to all of us now from the past and a very vanished past. that's my experience having read this book again after maybe 25 years. that the world that you were describing is so thoroughly gone from us that the idea that it could have stirred the kind of passionate opposition and hostility will, i think, strike anyone who reads it now as being absolutely baffling. that it's very sharp but rather gentle set of ambiguities about what it means to be a success in america, what it means to pursue a career in the united states
and the brutal bargain, as you call it, the trade-offs that are required of you in the course of your life in order to achieve success will not strike anythiing i think, as being -- anyone, i think, as being particularly controversial. and i'd like to start and ask you to reflect on a passage at the end of the second chapter. you have just, this book is a very peculiar kind of memoir. it's a memoir, but it's not a personal account. you are, you make yourself the object of or the sort of the object of your analysis of how a life pursuing success in america is led. isso at this point you are
graduating from college, and here's what you write. it's very striking. quote: in any event, while i myself from a very early age knew everything there was to know about jealousy and from both sides of the fence, i knew almost nothing about envy having experienced so little of it either as subject or object. not only did i not recognize it when i saw it, i was scarcely aware that such a thing existed. and this remarkable obtuseness was, of course, compounded by my adored child illusion that the world around me would dechair a holiday -- declare a holiday whenever i won a prize. [laughter] hence, my incredible stupidity in failing to anticipate that my friends at columbia university would be envious when, after absorbing the blow of the kellet -- a scholarship you won
to go to cambridge university -- they would also have to endure seeing me get the fulbright. hence, to my incredible stupidity in expecting them to be happy for me, and hence, finally, my inability to understand the intention behind their effort to persuade me that glibness and an adaptability bespeaking flabbiness of soul rather than any virtue of mind or character accounted for my be success. not perceiving the envy in this assault, taking it, indeed, just as my friends did for the honesty of a courageous love. we were great believers in telling one another the truth -- [laughter] i was altogether helpless before it and before the guilt and self-doubt it aroused. it was the first time i had ever experienced the poisoning of a success by envy, because it was the envy not of enemies, but of friends. and because it came at me not
naked and undies guised, but posing -- disguised, but posing as love and masked in rationalizations it was hard to identify as envy and harder still because in my instinctive terror of becoming the object of this expropose rating and cannibalistic passion, i was unwilling to admit to myself that it was, in fact, being directed against me. so i think that's a pretty fair description of what happened when this book came out. edmund wilson, the hit area critic, his -- literary critic, his diaries came out after his death, and there's a passage in one of them in which he remarks -- i remember edmund wilson as a little kid, my sister ruthie remembers him doing a magic trick and splitting a plate on his nose. [laughter] he was over at our apartment,
and later that night he wrote this diary entry about you got a big advance, who the hell were you -- [laughter] you know, everyone in town was talking about how awful it was, so basically you were set up to fail two years before the book calm out once people -- came out once people knew that you had sort of, you know, hit this mark. be -- how do you feel 50 years on at the notion that even then, even having written this passage, this very passage you had absolutely no idea that you were going to have a, you know, basically, a giant boulder dropped on your held? >> that's an understatement. laugh i was absolutely flabbergasted by the response to this book. i was very proud of it, i was very happy i'd managed to write it. incidentally, people called it a
memoir, an autobiography, i call it an auto-case history, though that's an ugh hi and unwield -- ugly and unwieldy phrase, so it never took. as john pointed out, i was u.s.ing myself as a case ud -- using myself as a case study. so little was this understood that one of the many attacks on the book said this man is such a brutal and sensitive character that there's not a single word in it about his children. [laughter] of whom he has four. the things that were said about this book are hard for me even to paraphrase. i can tell you that the measure of that response was a story in
"newsweek" magazine which went something like this, and i'm quoting almost exactly. last week in new york dinner tables, a new subject eclipsed vietnam as the subject of general outrage, a book called "making it." now be, imagine eclipsing vietnam. >> in 1967. >> in 1967. [laughter] so it was amazing. i was, of course, deeply hurt as well as baffled. but what could i do? the book, i had written the book, i certainly wasn't going to throw it into the garbage as my then-best friend suggested. i hope he is having indigestion over the fact that the new york review has -- [laughter] just reissued it under -- >> it should be known -- >> -- as a classic.
>> that the new york review was edited for decades by his ex-wife, by the woman to whom jason epstein was married, ask she was one of the editors. >> yeah. and i can only hope that jason is suffering from a severe case of indigestion. [laughter] so my main feeling about the reissue is one of-equal astonishment at the original reis sense. i certainly never -- reception. i certainly never thought i would live to see the day that this book would be vindicated, but there it is. and the editor of new york books, new york review of books is here, edwin frank. i haven't told him this, but when he called to tell me that he had just read this book for
the first time and would like to publish it as a new york review classic, i thought it was a practical joke. [laughter] then when i discovered that it wasn't a practical joke, i asked him whether bob silvers, late bob silvers as he is now, had any -- >> bob silvers was the co-editor and then the sole editor of new york review of books for 54 years until he died a couple of weeks ago. >> anyway, i wobderred -- wondered what might happen when bob silvers heard about it. and edwin frank assured me he had editorial independence. i won't make any connections between the sudden death of bob -- [laughter] a weird coincidence. >> yeah. [laughter] so just to give you a sense of
how times have changed, i think a lot of people in this room know that there was a long profile in "the new york times" a couple of weeks ago by john leland as part of this series calls lions of new york in which leland sat down with you and discussed this banished world of the new york intellectual and what you called the family. and the outpouring of enthusiasm about the world that was evoked in this piece which is evoked 10,000 times more powerfully in the book was such that a friend of mine who is a movie producer sent me a text saying, can we talk? i happened to be in the airport, i happened to be in the san francisco airport at the time waiting for a bag, and i said, sure, call me. i've got about five minutes until i have to go to the rental car station.
he calls me and he says i was just texting with young movie star a, and young movie star a read this piece in "the new york times," is and he is very excited about the possibility of making a tv series -- [laughter] out of this world where, you know, people are arguing about books, and they're drinking, and they're going and they're having fights, and it's like mad men but with books. [laughter] so when i was a teenager, one day at my sister's apartment we sat down and we wrote out this immensely long cast list of characters who should play parts in the film version of "making it." [laughter]
and we had decided -- this would have been in the late '70s, and we decided that richard dreyfuss should play you. [laughter] and lawrence o olivier who had just been in the jazz singer giving a horrendous performance should play your father. [laughter] so this should give you a sense, you know, this should give you a sense of the feeling absurdity of this notion that this very vehicle brag, very -- cerebral, very intellectual book might evoke this kind of response and, you know, in the world of popular culture. and yet reading it, as i think you all would find when you read it if you haven't read it yet, there is a real glamor that isn't just the glamor that you as an immigrant kid, as the son
of immigrants, son of a milkman, very poor growing up in brownsville, brooklyn, finally having access to a world in which the mind is central as opposed to just simply survival and the glamor of it. a lot of people really weren't all that glamorous in real life in their own persons. i don't think phillip rob was a particularly glamorous person. he had many aa fairs and i'm sure would be a very fine character on this tv show. but the glamor is very real because this is a book ab people who -- about people who take something with immense seriousness. right? >> well, interestingly, virginia postrel, very well known libertarian thinker, writer, wrote a book on glamor in which she says her idea of glamo are
came out of a book called "making it." that was the world in which she would have wanted to participate. well, it was, certainly, glamorous to me. it was also very dangerous. i describe a scene in which i, big party. a lot of people there. there were always a lot of pears. -- parties. and if you happened to be at, let's say, the wrong side of the room from mary mccarthy, you were in danger of being excoriated with the brilliance few could equal. does that name mean thinking to anybody? >> she was a creatic and a novelist and a famous wit who was about 10 yearses, 15 years older than you, right? so she would have been from a
previous generation, the founding generation of the, as it was called, family. and she was rare in this case because she was a catholic. >> yeah. host of the new york -- most of the new york intellectuals were jewish, but a surprising number were not. when the world got to be conscious of this group, it was always identified they're jewish. but some of its most important members were not jewish. more complicated than that. in any event, it was a world that's hard even to imagine in today's climate. as i say in the book, people actually came to blows over disagreements about works of art. i mean, to blows, fistfights. [laughter] over, you know,.
[inaudible] a great be novel or not. -- a great novel or not. i wrote a critical review of that book in 1953. i was just a kid. i was 23 years old, and at one of these big parties a very drunken gentleman came up to me, i didn't know who he was. he turned out to be john barryman who was a famous poet, maybe still famous, i don't know. certainly an eminent american poet. he said we'll get you for that review i if it takes ten years. [laughter] >> i should say that there's a very interesting thing about that anecdote in the book which is that you do not name barryman. and for a book that is viewed or was viewed as being sort of viewing -- vulgarly gossipy, you indulge in shockingly little gossip. because, as you said, this isn't what it was for.
in fact, had you been more careerist about it and had named names and been more open about who the anecdotes, a lot of the anecdotes are about, the negative anecdotes, i mean, you don't even name -- you're the great antagonist in the book, twin editors of commentary in the mid '50s when the editor in question, eliot cohen, had had a nervous breakdown. you just simply call these twins the boss, but, in fact, one of them was the most eminent art critic in history, clement greenberg. this is a book that elevated from gossip, is deliberately not gossipy, but the stories are there. >> the thing with greenberg, he was very eminent, i think till
is in the art world. he was great champion of jackson pollack, often said to have discovered jackson pollack. his rival was harold rosenberg who wound up writing art criticism for the new yorker which, when i first came into this world, would have been inconceivable that someone like harold would write at all. in any case, they were the two rival centers of power in the art world. rosenberg was a partisan -- [inaudible] and so the rivalry led to, greenberg liked fistfights. he actually had a fistfight in our living room from someone who said the wrong thing about jackson pollack or, i don't know, other painters.
it's hard, i was watching on television a series called the west by one of ken burns' disciples. it was very pro-indian, american indian. there's a scene in which we see sitting bill, chief sitting bull say i was a great chief, and i had these lands, and i had these followers, and i had these soldiers, and now where are they all? and i have to tell you that since "making it" was rish -- reissued, i've been feeling like the chief of a tribe -- [laughter] for better or worse. i wrote a book later, much more recently, called ex-friends in which i do name a lot of names, and i did admit that much as i suffered from that world, i missed it. i missed the intensity, the
passion. and it wasn't just about literature, it was also about politics. now, you have to understand everybody in that world was on the left. it wasn't -- the right was off the radar. i mean, it didn't exist. so it was a question of were you a trotzkyite or a stalinist or anti-stalinist or social democrat. and so on. and those were the factions, and those were taken with deadly seriousness. these arguments over, you know, was marx responsible for the horrors of the stalinist russia. >> however, i would like to quote from page 116 your initial entry into the world through -- or not really, basically through, in the offices of commentary for which you had started to write in 1952 as a
22-year-old and then were befriended by probably the best essayist who ever wrote for commentary outside of the two of us sitting here -- [laughter] robert -- [inaudible] who died tragically, a writer, probably the best writer on popular or culture the united states has ever produced who died in his late 30s of a heart attack. so he had befriended you. so here is a sentence here. clement greenberg, who was not always to be so generous in his estimate of me, that is the only indication of this thing i said about clement greenberg, had said i was a natural like the here eau of -- hero of -- [inaudible] irving howe, another famous socialist, self-described socialist literary, intellectual figure later created a magazine
called dissent, had been expressing concern over the neoconservativism of the younger generation on the basis of one of my reviews. neo-conservativism. appears in this book in 1967, long before anybody thought to adopt the term and apply it to you, though i will say that, again, toward the end of this book there are hints of the change that you were about to go through in which you start complaining about how the new left which you as an editor had started championing in the early 1960s had stopped dealing with the difficulties and social problems of united states in the 1950s, i think largely being racial, and had started delving
into the terrible ideas of the 1930s. meaning commune bism, support for social it -- communism, support for socialism, that you as someone who had been raised and had clung to anti-ing communism that you had never fallen prey to. and i think there, interestingly enough, is a hint of maybe what it was that you didn't even understand was going to evoke this enraged reaction to the book. >> yeah. well, that's a very important point. i never looked at "making it" after it was plushed, never. -- published, never. it was only a few weeks ago that i rerealize it for the first time -- reread it for the first time in 50 years. and i, frankly, confess that i was afraid to read it because down deep i thought, maybe they were right? [laughter] maybe it's a lousy book.
one of the things that was said was it was a book of no literary distinction whatsoever. well, i thought it was beautifully written, myself. [laughter] >> you can tell from the passage i realize that any such claim is absolutely preposterous sphwhrsms in any event, i was also told that the book was humorless when i thought it was quite funny, at least in places. there were other things. but when i reread the book for the first time, it was a strange experience. i tried reading it through the eyes of someone else. which is not that hard because, you know, in 50 years you change a lot. and the author of this book was not someone i recognized that easily. and so i was able to look at it with kind of an almost abnormal degree of objectivity. and what i mostly came away with was not reassurance that i had
written a classic, but how crazy all those people were. [laughter] they were demented. derangement syndrome, trump derangement -- virtually everything they said about this book was not only wrong, but the opposite of the truth. now, you could have made a very good case against this book on serious grounds, i suppose, but nobody did. and everyone who wrote about it said things that were so patently untrue that i would read bewildered. now, i now -- i did, however, detect something in there that may have accounted for the rage. and rage, it was. something i myself did not realize until be i reread it a few weeks ago.
there are hints and germs here of what was to foal -- to follow. i wrote this book thinking of myself as a man of the left. i was a fully-accredited intellectual of the left, own to some extent oar even to some extent in some people's eyes a reader. no notion of committing any apostthese or blahs we please against the political religion that i belonged to. but reading this book i could see that there were, how shall i say, emanations -- [laughter] of what was to come. and i think that many of the most of my friends and especially my friends smelled this -- [inaudible] >> let me read, let me read the passage that -- it was one thing to say that the programs of the old line zell rights
organizations -- civil rights organizations had not been adequately responsive to the needs of the negro masses and another to accuse them of being in secret coalitions with the racists to keep the knee grows down. it was one thing to say that the american education system was failing and another to sentimentalize dropping out of school as an act of social protest. it was one thing to be critical of foreign policy and another to be knew listically dismissive of the democratic system as a total fake. when i thought of these ideas and attitudes as the return of the repressed cliches in the '30s -- repressed because of the show trials and the khrushchev speech and the revelations of the horrors of communism, that's my interpretation -- i meant that they seemed to have no purpose beyond proving how rotten america was. when in the pre-popular front days when stalin adopted the
same tactic, it had at least been in the belief that it would help bring the revolution closer. but in the '60s when it was triumphantly demonstrated that a particular act of legislation did not go far enough or american policy in a given area of the world was based on stupid assumptions, no revolutionary strategy was involved. the only purpose being served was to pile up evidence of the frawj lens of american democratic processes and pretensions to prove that america was racist or imperialist or counterrevolutionary. so i think there are more than emanations in that passage. [laughter] you may not have known it -- >> yeah, but oddly enough, hardly anybody said that in attacking the book. and, again, you have to understand this is easier to understand from the perspective of today's cultural climate that
it would have been then that everything was being politicized. everything. politics was, you know, a black hole sucking everything into it. and to say something positive about success, about the ambition for success -- i kept saying there was nothing wrong with it. that was one of the main points i was make anything the book. to extol what would have been called the middle class values or bourgeois life was about as far as, you know, everything's up-to-date in kansas city. they've gone about as far as they can go. this was, this was an explosive idea. and i don't know why i was so naive and stupid as not to realize how explosive it was. well, i'll say in my own defense i had been raised intellectually
with the idea that the single greatest virtue of literature was honesty. and especially honesty that disclosed bad qualities in one's self-. sdostoyevsky's underground man. here i had written a book very faithful to that precept, and one of the most important teachers i had who had instructed me in the virtues of honesty, namely lionel trilling, advised me to not to publish the book. i thought, what the hell is going on here? but i can see now that the defense of what would have been considered the bourgeois way of life was the main source of the outrage against the book.
and for some reason, nobody wanted to say that. so they kept picking on other things that were, as i said, mostly untrue. >> however, it is not an untrammelled defense of success. or even -- you simply say it is the nature of the human condition for people to seek power and authority and to have success, though the success can be defined in many different kinds of ways. it can't simply be defined as monetary success. that wasn't anything that even, as you say, sort of spoke to you. in fact, you did so much better than your own parents had done and jumped classes ahead of them that would have seemed almost science fictional even to take those other leaps. but that there are all kinds of trade-offs in achieving this success including the alienation of your family, the having to
acknowledge that you were outdistancing your beloved childhood friend socially and that the people in whose orr orr obit you -- orbit you wished to live were mean, savage, hostile to each other, drunk, you know, brutal but very, very, very clever. right? >> oh, yes. >> so this was a world in which what mattered was being clever. >> well, the brain power in that world was explosive. i mean, it was like nothing i've seen, i'd seen before or since. and i later wrote an attack on hannah -- [inaudible] icemen of jerusalem she incidentally was a friend of mine at the time and became one of my earliest ex-friends. and i subtitled that piece notes
on the perversity of brilliance. and if anyone who ever lived was brilliant, it was hannah. and what did that brilliance bring her to but extremely perverse con clueses about a very -- conclusions about a very delicate subject. and that was true of a lot of these people. they were wrong about practically everything. but they were brilliantly wrong. [laughter] dazzlingly wrong. and it was worth your life to take them on. i mean, it was dangerous to debate with some of these people. you'd walk away humiliated within ten minutes unless you were really good at it. so that was one of the great lessons that i learned from living in that world, but it took me a long time to absorb et
and to fully -- absorb it and to fully understand how much it meant. >> i think that the only really theories and substantive criticism that you have to acknowledge was correct. in the case of this book, a line by the columnist and new york city wag, murray kempton, who named the family to to describe the new york intellectual world that you mentioned in which he said only norman podhoretz could consider living on 105th and broadway making it. [laughter] >> well, i'll tell you -- >> and i'm sorry, but there's a lot of truth to that. >> absolutely. >> considering how frequently we were mugged. naomi and i and rachel. >> murray kempton -- >> he lived on 103rd and broadway, by the way. [laughter] it's not like he was speaking from a great perch of social -- >> for him it was downward
mobility. he came from a highly aristocratic family many baltimore. grandfather was chief justice of the baltimore -- >> maryland. >> -- maryland supreme court and so on. when he was young, he was a communist, and he got himself arrested in a may day demonstration. and all these kids were hauled up before this judge, and the judge gave them a very stern lecture and sentenced them to, you know, whatever it was, 10 days in the county jail. and then he said not you, murray, not you. i mean, i'm surprised to see you here, a kempton in this courtroom? and i have to just assume that it was a wayward impulse that led you here. well, murray kempton never got
over that. [laughter] he too was very brilliant. but it's true that there was a lot of ambivalence in my, in my, what should i call it, justification of the ambition for success. but the fact that i see now clearly, there wasn't much you could say in the year 1967 in new york or in the united states generally, i think, that would be more offensive than to say that it is better to succeed than to fail, it's better to be rich than to be poor and that it's better to be powerful than powerless. and that the life, the life lived by those who are
successful and was generally in those days the middle class values was to be commended and not sneered at. and there was nothing more sneerable at than what was called middle class values in that period. and so i started this book, writing this book in 1965 when things were on the balance, the anti-war movement had not yet come to real fruition. the civil rights movement had not yet turned violent. by the time i finished the book in 1967, it hand into a perfect storm -- it ran into a perfect storm. everything that was going on in this culture was inimical to the spirit and the substance of this book. so in a sense, i deserved what i got. i don't really mean that -- [laughter] but it's not inexplicable.
but i dare say anybody here who has never read the book or never heard about it and reads it now whether you like it or you don't like it, i think would be quite puzzled by the storm it aroused. >> well, let me read the first paragraph, and then we'll get to questions, because i think it evokes the strange tone in which you were criticized for, say, the vulgar denunciation of your own hunger for success and pursuit of it which is entirely the opposite -- the book begins making fun of that. let me introduce myself. i am a man who at the precocious age of 35 experienced an astonishing revelation; it is better to be a success than a failure. having been penetrated by this great truth concerning the
nature of things, my mind was now open for the first time to a series of corollary perceptions, each one as dizzying in its impact as the original revelation itself. money, i now saw -- no one had ever seen it before -- was important. it was better to be rich than to be poor. power i now saw, moving on to higher subtleties, was desirable. it was better to give orders than to take them. fame i now saw, how courageous of me not to flinch was unqualify my delicious. it was better to be recognized than to be anonymous. this book represents an effort why it should have taken someone like myself so long to arrive at such apparently elementary discoveries. because, in the world in which you lived, those discoveries -- because of the perversity of brilliance, these very simple
home truths had to be buried under a set of intellectual principleses that contradicts -- presumptionings that contradicted them. >> yeah. i just want to throw in a little story about my mother. john made reference to the alienation of one's family that was involved in moving from one social class to another. there's a big best selling book now by j.d. vance which is -- >> hill billy elegy. >> some have called it the -- [inaudible] making it. [laughter] he goes into great detail about the pain of having gotten himself separated from his roots. this, my mother could never understand what i was doing. [laughter]
she -- what is he, a journalist? [laughter] i mean, mrs. so and so on the second floor, son, was a doctor. no problem there. somebody else was a lawyer and had a cadillac. what exactly -- she knew that i was making some kind of reputation, that my name was in the papers occasionally, but, and when people, especially relatives asked what is he exactly, she said, she couldn't answer. my father could, but he was too snobbish to get into these discussions. and my mother once said wistfully, and here you have in this little remark encapsulated a huge sociological theory. she said wistfully, i should have made him for a dentist. [laughter]
now, the laugh isn't big enough, because a lot of you don't know what that means. a dentist was a kid who had failed to become a doctor. [laughter] and even though he might make a lot of money and visit his mother every sunday and drive her out to his mansion in long island, nevertheless, he was a failed doctor. [laughter] >> that, she could understand. >> that, she could understand. so if she had made me for a dentist, there wouldn't have been this kind of problem. i wouldn't have been living in this, in this weird world that she could make no sense of. >> but, you know, one other anecdote you have no memory of but i think is telling because this would have been around when you were in your early 50s, and so there you were, you had been a sort of eminent american pretty much for 25 years, born a child of immigrants who spoke
yiddish at home, who spent their lives speaking in thick yiddish accents. your mother died only 20 years ago in her 90s. father was a milkman, was a terrible failure in life as a person in the terms in which "making it" is described. and there you were, you had made yourself, you were famous, your notorious, whatever you were, and i was home from either college or i was home from washington for the weekend. i was going out at night, and i had on a blue -- i had on a suit, i think, either a suit or something. and brown shoes. and you said to me, you're wearing brown shoes? [laughter] and i said, yeah. brown shoes. you were like, i never had the social self-confidence to wear brown shoes. [laughter] and when we, when i was a kid,
we would go on saturdays or sundays we'd go walk from our house to go to the movies in midtown or something like that, you always wore a jacket and tie. and i always assumed what that was about, the shoes, the jacket, the tie was somebody was going to find you, look at you if you were wearing rust a shirt with an -- just a shirt with an open color and send you back to brownsville. >> well, the brown shoes has a story. i was, i was once again accused in this piece of the times of still dropping names. so i will now drop a name. jackie kennedy. there was a period in which i became very friendly with jackie kennedy. edwin wilson made a nasty remark about that in another one of his journals. and i lost her friendship, incidentally, because of "making it." she said a man who brags about
his grades in school? that was her gripe. but we, we went to a party at her house. we were living on the west side and we went across -- needed a visa, practically -- [laughter] i was wearing brown shoes with a blue suit. or maybe it was even a brown suit. a brown suit. and i had broken my ankle or manager like that. in any case, walked in and jackie looked me over and she said, oh, you scooted across the park in your little brown suit and your nice brown shoes. i won't tell you what i said in response to that. [laughter] but that's where the obsession with brown shoes came in. it had remained, it stays -- i don't own any brown shoes. [laughter] >> so with that, does anybody have any -- we have a
microphone, so please wait if you wish to, for the microphone. we have a gentleman over here if you want to -- okay. >> i would like to thank you for your recollection. you have given many reasons for the response to your book, but you never mention even possibly the fact that you were jewish had anything to do with it. am i wrong to have feeling that that was also a factor? >> i don't think so because -- well, that i was so nakedly jewish may have been a factor. most of the people who attack the book were themselves jewish, and being jewish was becoming fashionable in american literary society. it was the breakthrough.
saul bellow, phillip ross and so on. it was not a disability, so to speak, to be jewish. but it is possible, now that you mention it, to be all that nakedly jewish might have offended some people, yeah. >> you know, there's a thing in the book you begin talking about having this high school teacher, miss kay, who is one of the authors of your alienation from your immigrant family and the idea that you could set your sights very high. she wanted you to go to harvard, and she wanted -- childless woman, she wanted to train you in the proper behavior. and her constant invocation to you was don't be a dirty little slum child, right? you're a dirty little slum child, is that what you're going
to be? a dirty little slum child. think about, on the one hand, the savagery of that and on the other hand, a world in which no one has this idea, the world that we live in now in which no one sees even if it's out of snobbery that there are people mired in j.b. vance's world who would be helped along by the notion that the world in which they live is not a world out of which they should aspire to grow, because to say in that is to be mired in it. and i think dirty little slum child, because she was married to a jew. as you say, dirty little slum child was a euphemism even for her. even this speck tack alreadily -- spectacularly rude woman wouldn't say dirty little jew boy, but that's what she meant. >> the kind of jew she was married to -- [inaudible] he was a german jew. and he wore a --
[inaudible] [laughter] he also was a hater of roosevelt. very un-jewish thing. >> anyway. sir? wait for the mic, if you would. >> may i give you a fastball down the middle? do you see any parallels between the the intelligentsia of the mid 1960s and the intelligentsia of today from a political perspective? >> great question. >> yeah. [laughter] well, i could spend hours answering that question. the answer is that the political intelligentsia of today is the product of the degradation of the political intelligentsia of the 'to 40s and '50s.
i can sum it up in a little anecdote i think i tell in the book. i once was invited to debate vietnam, about which i was ambivalent. i was sort of against but not all that much. in the 14th street union hall with a radical leftist. and i went there with one of my colleagues, the late marion -- who had a wicked tongue. and we walked in, and there were about, i don't know, 20 people scattered in this big union hall. and she said to me, to you realize every single person in this room is a tragedy to some family or other? [laughter] well, they took over america in the next 10 or 20 years, these people. those attitudes.
it was, you know, the maoists spoke of the long march through the institutions. and the long march through the institutions of anti-americanism resulted, in my opinion, first of all in the takeover of the democratic party by mcgovern and his followers and then, finally, jumping ahead to the election of barack obama and also someone like de blasio as mayor of new york. i may offend some people here if i say i had described what we're going through while obama was president. we have a sandinista in gracie mansion and a stalinist in the white house. [laughter] i apologize. >> that's okay. but be i, i would say one thing on this topic which is that
comparing -- on the one hand the left, the new left of the '60s was, on the one hand far more serious in some ways than the left is today. that is to say that they were so serious that they embraced totalitarianism in some cases following the logic of their thinking to its ultimate conclusion. they embraced violence openly and apologized for it in a way that people don't do now. and on the other hand, today -- so they were more serious. the intellectuals of your day who were not them, but were the, were their teachers and were their forebears were vastly more learned, serious, interested in ideas than sort of what would pass for the intelligentsia
today which is very thin. i say this as someone who edits what i hope is a formidable intellectual magazine, i do so in an atmosphere n a culture in which -- in a culture in which, you know, the tone, the tenor of something that is really serious is something that does not speak to a great many people and does not, in a funny way, intimidate people. the most important country in the world. we have intellectuals just like
europe and we have a novelist of distinction just like europe. not that there's anywhere else in the world that is more serious than the united states because that would be hard to argue but european countries are more intellectually serious than they seem to be less, but discussing ideas is a very, discuss and i did that too controversial and they summon a mop to your house. they publish a address online where the mob can come stronger house. or if you say something flippantly clever that is not, that is out of the realm of whether it is deemed to be appropriate, you spend weeks and months apologizing, and dairy ub charles murray and say -- dear you be -- the country is coming
apart socially because of something you wrote 22 years earlier that no one has read. and has no idea what you actually say. that you are assaulted by a mob on a college campus. it's much worse now than it was then, i think. although it was terrible than in its own way, and all the seeds of the degradation, part of what you read and it was the follow-up which is breaking ranks, a book about political revolution, is the abdication of intellectual responsibility by this class when the war, violent war, romantic of the 1960s began to take over, and people that you wanted to be in the fight with you against it simply refused or were too afraid or lost confidence in the
importance of their own approach, right? >> ruth and then michael. >> just to turn, my experts with this book is been so different that may be it is worth commenting on. about five times since 1990 i gave a course on the new york intellectual. i would say i far the most interesting students i ever attracted to courses were for news course on the new york intellectuals. those who came were people who wanted -- [inaudible] spirit so there is a hunger for that. i think one of my favorite moments from this course was a very bright student who, shaking her head like this, and i said
is something about a? and she said, we will never write like that. never, never never ever come with such longing. your book was always on that course. it always aroused so much interest and attention and discussion. i was so grateful to you for coming to the course once in a while. you didn't feel perhaps the energy but it's still there. what i wanted to ask or say is ironically enough, it is universities that innocents destroyed the possibility of that intellectual. have you ever gone for a phd, had they ever been in university, except antagonistic way as they were, it wouldn't have happened. so there's something very sad about that because all the
students would've wanted to break it into this kind of, and many of them by the way, have become editors and gone into journalism. i don't know if there's anything yowant to us become a university professor. >> you know, one of the things that you talk about though is you could say this is original sin of wars. you actually talk about that weird window in which you live, in which yo you are someone whos interested in ideas presume the only way to live your life as a person who engaged with them, with books, with literature, was to go off, get a phd and become a university professor. you are going to go, you went to cambridge, you're going to write dissertation on disraeli.
then you realize this was not the world for you, that it was too far as they move. what is it that kissinger said? the fights are so savage but the stakes are so low. he wanted to be in a place where the stakes were higher. it just so happened that this world opened up in which there was a possibility of making a living like this. there isn't really any more, entirely. that world doesn't come it sort of ceased to exist at some point. point. most people do the stuff are living, dut dt to make some kinf living stitching together university jobs. but do you feel that you missed out on educating the young in the way that ruth, who spent so many years, so many decades trying to do that, devoted her
life to? >> i have a very low opinion of the american university -- i think it's degraded in degrading environment and it will take some kind of revolution to recapture the course once enjoyed. this is not unique. in 18 center, oxford and cambridge became placing of the aristocracy and lost in serious intellectual heft that they have carried. if you look at the great intellectuals anarchists of the early 18th century in london, not a one of them is university, even went to university. they were dr. johnston and that whole group. i think we're seeing something like that now that is some of
the best people, intellectually, have come out of think takes like charles murray rather than the universities. i can tell you i was a great fn of general petraeus to begin with, then i heard he had got his phd at princeton and i said to my wife, oh -- [laughing] turned out to be right. >> what a fitting to talk about, i'm looking for the passage but i can't quite find it, is that columbia where you went in 1946, this famous course of every student had to take and the purpose of the core course was to introduce and to enroll everybody at the college in western civilization. this is the repository of our greatness, where it comes from.
you start with plato, start with homer, plato, aristotle, come up to the present day. everything that we have, everything that we are emanates from this, right and this is opposite the teaching move that is no longer acceptable spirit heigh ho, western civilization has got to go. spirit unacceptably bourgeois, i think. michael? >> not disagreeing we live in very dark times. what if we can't just observe the very fact your book has been republished and buy up all imprints, the article that you evoke such a strong positive response. i wonder if these are not some portends that may be the bad times are at least, summarize
spirit i would be delighted to be taken as a portends. i wonder about it. i'm an old guy by now, so the saying in yiddish, the late men, how do you translate it? if you live long enough, basically you live through everything, right. i feel a bit that way myself. especially in light of these two coincidental events. spirit everybody who lives here, in new york, would have to say the new york city can come back from where it was in the '70s and '80s, anything can happen pretty much i think. >> how different with the family
existence be it the internet and social media existed at that time? >> well obviously very different. it's almost impossible to imagine. i mean, it may be surprised to this, i'm not a great social media and internet. i live on the internet seven hours a day, something like that, and i think there's a lot to be said for it. but certainly it's not had a value in fact, an intellectual discourse, not at all. the one term that's been missing from this discussion about the new york intellectuals is the term highbrow. there was a clear distinction n those days between what was highbrow, what was middlebrow, what was lowbrow. there was very little
communication among these spheres, and for better or worse, those distinctions at some point disappeared. and i think that has a lot to do with the loss of the particular quality of the highbrow world in those days. i mentioned harold rosenberg before he made his reputation as an arc crater, although he was polymet, he wrote about everything -- art critic -- and wrote about everything. he was asked to write art criticisms for the new yorker. that seemed to be a great turning point in the american culture, and in a certain sense it was. he told it was that the editor of the new yorker called it in one day and he said, i just read your latest piece, and i don't
know what you're talking about. he said don't worry about it, i know what i'm talking about. [laughing] >> it's interesting about the highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, i was raised in a certain type of highbrow snobbery let's say, the middlebrow, book-of-the-month club, saturday evening post, genteel foreign films, that sort of thing, with something for which eyebrows had the most extreme contempt -- eyebrows -- but it turned out without his bowels left us in a world of what might be called sort of ideal worshipers, people who longed, who believed that they should be in some proximity to this, even if they had the standards and they didn't have
appropriately arched standards for it, that the collapse of the middlebrow, collapsed the highbrow as will because even though the highbrow hated the middlebrow, it was the middlebrow he supported the highbrow and everything became lowbrow. that's the oddity. there's no definable highbrow left in the united states. >> high-rise at the end because i sense your ending. and i want to report on an experience i had yesterday which i simply want to lay out consideration for everybody here. there was a man named pat
moynihan, a longtime friend of yours, at the end of his life i became a very good friend and very interested. contributed a small amount to an effort to produce a document, a film on his life. which i had the privilege yesterday of viewing. i don't think the film is going to attract any oscars, bu but i want to raise again in your mind the memory of a person, you know, like the man i know, who knew senator moynihan. and i commend to all of you if the film does get to a movie
house, which i doubt, because the artistic professional quality of the production leaves a lot. moynihan was a man, you know very well, it was committed to performing the negro race, the negro family. he died without solving the problem. and i just want to come into any of you who are interested in what he had said, that he voiced himself to try to change society so that the black family would not be destroyed. >> i have to interrupt you not because i now have to tell -- >> i just want to make you aware
that that film may becoming a you should sit. >> okay. but i need to share a piece of gossip with everybody here, okay? because you will not do it at i will do you might do it. there is enough gossip. i'm going to do. you know the speech that made moynihan said international reputation, the one that said we will never react we ask? he wrote it? that's the gossip. he wrote that speech, not taft. just to let you know. c-span now knows. everybody out there now knows that one of the most important speeches written i in the 20 century was written by norm podhoretz. [applause] >> not the whole speech. >> no, only the part that everybody remembers. finally i want to thank the rotary club and i think, you know, that stuff, you didn't write that part. >> moynihan was a very close
friend of mine for a period of over ten years, and we became somewhat estranged in the later years. that's a long story. but pat moynihan was a highbrow intellectual from one of the very few, since i don't know, john adams, was able to make a career in american politics. he was absolutely unique in that point of view, and i myself regretted, came to regret that he had chosen a political career, which i had something to do with by the way, because it cut the edge off some of his salutary brilliance. he was brilliant and right rather than brilliant and wrong. he was a great friend. >> so when it comes to brilliant and right, "making it."
thank you very much. [applause] >> acquit, when you said abuse go, i knew the new york review of books would bring back "making it." second, i'm going to bite us just because of what you read the introduction. i have a perfect first addition of what you think you because i cannot add it to my bank statement probably six figures. [inaudible] spirit we have skirted around the issue a little bit. we have properly thrashed the great universities of today, and i will say that as a member of faculty of one, but there's a more general point and get his eyes always thought that what buckley meant when he said he would rather be governed by the
first three pages of the boston telephone directly than the boston faculty. there is correlation, maybe an inverse correlation between intellectual prowess and good sense, judgment comments or leave the ability to govern. >> so it would seem. [laughing] >> thank you very much. [applause] >> [inaudible conversations] >> booktv records hundreds of other programs throughout the country all year long, and usually get some of the events we will be covering this week.