Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

60
Excerpt from Breaking Ranks
1979

Norman Podhoretz

(See no. 32 for biographical information about Podhoretz.)

Although in Making It (1967) Norman Podhoretz had characterized Trilling as “the single most influential” member of the Partisan Review writers during the 1950s—an intellectual “exactly in tune with the temper” of the decade—the two men fell out after Podhoretz’s radical turn upon assuming the editorship of Commentary in 1960. When Podhoretz adopted a neoconservative politics in the early 1970s, he and Trilling—who held, however ambivalently, to his liberal anti-Communist stance throughout the postwar era—argued again over their political differences, now from opposite positions on the ideological spectrum.

The following selection, excerpted from Podhoretz’s Breaking Ranks, criticizes Trilling’s “failure of nerve” for refusing to join Podhoretz’s neoconservative campaign against the New Left, which Podhoretz regarded as the ideological equivalent of the Stalinism that Trilling had criticized in Partisan Review’s pages in the 1930s.

Trilling had been through the antiradical wars as a young man in the thirties, and though (in contrast to many of his contemporaries) he was not in the least inclined to repent of his political past by switching sides in the latest outbreak of hostilities, neither did he have the stomach to enter the lists again. It was too hard—even harder than the last time. Then there had only been the Communists and their fellow travelers to fight, whereas now the whole phenomenon was so much more diffuse and elusive. Describing the group of intellectuals with whom he had been associated in the thirties (the group led by Elliot Cohen), Trilling once wrote that any member of it “would have been able to explain his disillusionment” with “radical

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