BREAKING RANKS: A Political Memoir by Norman Podhoretz

BREAKING RANKS: A Political Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An intellectual brushfire on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Podhoretz is the longtime editor of Commentary; the author, notoriously, of the memoir Making It (1968), in which he confessed/proclaimed his lust for success; and, of late, a neoconservative ideologue. Ostensibly his son was incredulous that he'd once, nonetheless, believed ""all that stuff""--those radical ideas at large in the early Sixties--and so Podhoretz sets out here to explain his brief enlistment in the van guard, his disillusion with the Movement and the New Left, and his resolve, as of 1968, to wage all-out war on ""the armies of the alienated."" The result is nine-tenths polemics and backbiting. Podhoretz sees himself victimized by his celebration, in Making It, of all-American success. William Phillips, the Partisan Review editor and early, courageous anti-Communist, was against him! Norman Mailer--honest, soul-baring Norman Mailer was against him! Lionel Trilling, his guide to ""the complexities of American culture,"" was against him! ""The objection""--whether they'd admit it or not--""was political""; and so it is no coincidence that these three are prominent among the ""old friends"" accused--with more or less vitriol--of want of nerve and/or opportunism in going along with the Movement's radical critique of American society. At this date, Podhoretz's strictures on the counterculture et al. are familiar (they haven't changed), while his objections to such post-Sixties, post-Vietnam policies as preferential treatment for blacks and foreign disengagement are novel only to the extent that he openly proclaims his Jewish interest (quotas will reduce so-called Jewish ""overrepresentation,"" non-interventionism will leave Israel undefended). His advocacy of self-interest for all does, however, have a certain grim pertinence to today's proliferating special-interest groups; the consequences, at least, bear consideration. But the book's liveliest passages come, as it happens, early on, when Podhoretz is first mesmerized by Norman Mailer's bravado; first coming upon Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death (""a life of play and of complete instinctual freedom""); first publishing, in installments, Paul Goodman's politico-social declaration-of-independence, Growing Up Absurd--or first being bedazzled by JFK. Podhoretz bowled over is each of us and himself; Podhoretz denouncing and pontificating--as he does so much of the time here--is a pain. Except for those impugned, chiefly of documentary interest.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row