Oh, you assumed things would be different. Last year around its 100th anniversary, The New Republic had the greatest and most dramatic departure from its masthead in the history of small magazines. Chris Hughes, the new publisher who scared off the imperious Leon Wieseltier and co., was supposed to “rebrand” and make TNR less stodgy, more hip, more clickable. Think Buzzfeed. Alas, by the looks of it, the new TNR has already exhausted its supply of ideas and is covering old territory: Cornel West. That may have shocked its readers; it may have even shocked Cornel West.
During the 1990s, the old TNR castigated the up-and-coming Harvard academic Cornel West for the intellectual vacuity of his work. The man making the fuss about West’s supposedly inferior intellectual efforts was Leon Wieseltier, literary editor. Typical old fuddy-duddy Wieseltier was none-too-impressed with West’s reliance on multiculturalism and philosophical nihilism to explain the conundrum of African-Americans. Nor was he impressed with what he called West’s “noisy, tedious, slippery, sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared” intellectualizing. That Wieseltier was a Jewish Zionist, a neoliberal reactionary (according to the academic Left), and insufferably elitist made what might have been a career destroying critique ineffectual. Now, having learned from the past, the new TNR selected black intellectual and West protege Michael Eric Dyson to lodge the personal and scholarly dagger into West. Dyson lists his grievances, which are petty and largely personal, in a tidy 10,000 words: West stabs his proteges in the back, is envious, a celebrity-chaser, an irrational Obama-hater, doesn’t do serious scholarly work, etc. Dyson does real violence to West. But nevertheless, the reader may have been reassured by new TNR’s first edition that it no longer was interested in maintaining its morbid propensity toward racialist pandering. It was a pretty lengthy expiation of its past racial sins. Alas, a mistaken impression: the new TNR remains as equally committed to racial rabble-rousing as the old.