No matter what anyone says at the Harvard observances today, Martin Peretz has been undeniably shamed. And lastingly shamed, unless he sets about building a new reputation. A month ago, he was an editor-in-chief who had many devoted proteges, some persistent critics (to name two, Matt Duss andEric Alterman, plusthis), but a general position of respectability. Now the reaction to his writings is such that even the president of Harvard had tohold him at arm’s length in saying that she still would accept the scholarship money; and he has been criticized eloquently inhis own magazine (by Todd Gitlin: “The life of the mind is not the life of the spleen”) and, inter alia, in the Tablet (by Marc Tracy: “This is not the first time he has written something racist, and it isn’t the fifteenth time, either”).
Peretz — and everyone else — must know that if his legacy were to be settled as of today, it would be mixed at best. Beloved by many students and respected by some magazine colleagues, but broadly considered in his 70s to be a bigot.
In the first place, the point of Peretz’s longtime critics is that he has pretty much always been a bigot, only this time enough people noticed to make his colleagues step back a bit in fear of getting any of his bigot cooties on them. The fear of being associated with his assier remarks finally overcame their desire to defend one of their own, in that bizarre media calculus that lets you get away with vile reprehensible shit for years and then all of a sudden it becomes randomly Not Okay.
In the second place (working backwards here), can we please stop talking about damage to the man’s legacy as if it was an actual, you know, thing? So some people think he’s a jerk now. Does he have less money because of it? Is he going to be hurt in any actual, material way? Maybe only Regenery publishes his next book. Bummer. To act like Peretz not getting invited to some parties for a few weeks is on par with the devastation caused by the people his columns propped up for years is shockingly callous.
I also really like “lastingly shamed, unless he decides to build a new reputation.” Which would happen all by virtue of his hard work, and not at all by his friends in the press writing wankeriffic columns about how enough has happened to him and we should all forgive him now.
And by the way, Harvard should use that money for a Muslim scholarship! That’ll show him! HAH!
Matthew Yglesiashas argued strongly that people shouldn’t give money to rich private universities in any circumstances, since the money will make a much bigger difference at a cash-poor public college. OK. But in reality, Peretz’s friends and proteges were not going to give that $650,000 for fellowships at Cal State San Bernardino. Harvard can presumably put the fellowship to some beneficial use — and, as I’ve suggested several times earlier, if they’re queasy about Peretz’s anti-Muslim diatribes, they could use the occasion to raise more money for new scholarship favoring Muslims.
Right. I’m sure they’re falling all over themselves to do that. I like how of course the money would be better spent elsewhere, but that’s just silly. Rich douchebags only donate to other rich douchebags, and not only should we not speak out about that in any way because it’s unrealistic to think they’d do otherwise, we should suggest they magically stop being douchebags once they have their hands on the cash.