Why are critics so deferential to the radicalism of Ta-Nehisi Coates?Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Maybe “Culture Belongs to Everyone,” as they say at New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park shows, but the works of Atlantic essayist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates appear to exist in another realm altogether. In the weeks since the publication of Between the World and Me, Coates’s letter to his teenage son about the perils and promise of being black and male in America, critics have struggled to find adjectives to match his achievements. Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post summed up recent discussions of who counted as America’s foremost “public intellectual” by concluding: “Coates has won that title for himself, and it isn’t even close.” New York Times film reviewer A.O. Scott tweeted: “ ‘Must read’ doesn’t even come close. This from @tanehisicoates is essential, like water or air.”
The book’s devotees ask not just whether we can “come close” to fathoming its genius but whether we, and especially the whites among us, have the moral standing even to aspire to. The novelist Michael Chabon begs pardon:
I know that this book is addressed to the author’s son, and by obvious analogy to all boys and young men of color as they pass, inexorably, into harm’s way. I hope that I will be forgiven, then, for feeling that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking to me, too, one father to another, teaching me that real courage is the courage to be vulnerable.
The Times columnist David Brooks was clearly troubled by a passage in which Coates recalls watching the World Trade Center towers burn on September 11, 2001, and remembers having seen “no difference” between a policeman who had shot one of his college classmates and those police and firemen then being incinerated in the buildings. (“They were not human to me.”) But Brooks managed to catch himself before he committed an act of lèse-majesté: “I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it,” he wrote, “to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?”
Other white public intellectuals were ready to offer guidance. Wrote Toronto National Post columnist Emily Keeler: “It’s despicable for Brooks to position the destruction of people’s lives as some kind of learning opportunity for white people. . . . Coates isn’t writing to or for us, fellow white people.” But Keeler could not help taking a little peek at the book herself, and now, she writes, she “wouldn’t give up the chance to bear witness to that bracing act of love, and perhaps, to feel changed by it, for the world.”
Plunder and reparation
For decades, several books every publishing season have promised an “authentic” account of the experience of being black in America. But the 39-year-old Coates, a Baltimore native, has struck it very big. We learn from New York magazine that he even shows up late for meetings with the president. Coates claims as his model a classic of the black autobiographical genre, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963). It is not immediately clear, though, what distinguishes Coates’s effort from the heap of less distinguished books written in Baldwin’s wake. To figure this out one must look at “The Case for Reparations,” a 16,000-word essay Coates wrote for the Atlantic last year, which won him a wide Internet following. The article makes no explicit “case” that someone should pay today’s blacks for the mistreatment of yesterday’s. The case gets made by implication, through a thumbnail history of American slavery, the racial prejudice that underlay it, and the inequality and injustice that survived it.
Christopher Caldwell meets Ignominous IgnácMar 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 27 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
On a bright, zero-degree morning last month, as I was happily making my bed in the attic of friends in Brooklyn, I thought with a shudder of Ignác Hrubý. Being a houseguest is one of my joys. It combines security and adventure, familiarity and independence. Having houseguests used to be a joy, too. Until Iggy’s visit.
Bob Dylan’s ‘Basement Tapes’Mar 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 26 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
In the mid-1960s the most celebrated folk musician of his era bought a house for his growing family at the southern edge of the Catskills, in the nineteenth-century painters’ retreat of Woodstock. He was a “protest singer,” to use a term that was then new. His lyrics—profound, tender, garrulous—sounded like they were indicting the country for racism (“where black is the color where none is the number”), or prophesying civil war (“you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows”), or inviting young people to smoke dope (“everybody must get stoned”).
Christopher Caldwell, Hydrox hypochondriac Nov 3, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 08 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
A lot of people worry about Ebola these days. Not me. I’m calm, relatively speaking. That is, I’m calm, relative to the shuddering, sobbing basket case that the mere thought of infectious disease once reduced me to.
Christopher Caldwell's near-miss with destinyJul 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 41 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
A few weeks ago the Times Literary Supplement ran a photograph of the grisliest act of violence in Italy since World War II—Italy’s equivalent of our own September 11 attacks. In 1980 a shadowy group of homegrown terrorists planted a time bomb in the waiting room of the Bologna Central station. When it went off at 10:25 a.m., the roof collapsed on bystanders. The blast cut through people standing on the platform and blew apart much of a nearby train. Eighty-five dead, hundreds wounded.
Bad omens.9:30 AM, Jun 1, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
The most ominous aspect of the flotilla incident is Turkey's involvement. The flotilla bound for Gaza, in violation of the blockade, was allowed to leave a Turkish port. The main sponsor was a Turkish charity known for ties to jihadist groups. The Turkish diplomatic and governmental apparatus sprung into action at the first sign of trouble -- which of course there was, since the "peace activists" onboard the flotilla were masked and armed with lead pipes and knives.
The issue that won't go away.3:36 PM, May 6, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
When I first heard about Arizona law SB 1070, I was taken aback. Press coverage suggested the law authorized state and local police to go around demanding someone's papers on the slightest suspicion that he or she is an illegal immigrant. The clear implication was that Hispanic communities would be targeted. And since this seemed to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and equality before the law, my inclination was to oppose the bill.
Final reflections on Communism’s failure.Mar 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 23 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Last Exit to Utopia
The Survival of Socialism
in a Post-Soviet Era
by Jean-François Revel
The German magazine interviews Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell about Muslims in Europe.2:00 PM, Jan 9, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
On a few occasions and much to its credit, Der Spiegel has gone out in search of that odd species (to most Germans, at least) known as the conservative—and in particular, conservative intellectuals who make powerful arguments. (Some Germans with whom I've spoken could not admit to being persuaded by the likes of, say, Robert Kagan. What they normally say is, "He is provocative.") Last October the magazine interviewed Weekly Standard contributing editor Charles Krauthammer who must have surely left readers mystified by his opinions. When asked about President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Krauthammer replied, "It is so comical. Absurd. Any prize that goes to Kellogg and Briand, Le Duc Tho and Arafat, and Rigoberta Menchú, and ends up with Obama, tells you all you need to know. For Obama it's not very good because it reaffirms the stereotypes about him as the empty celebrity." Wahnsinn!
And just last month my colleague Christopher Caldwell was interviewed about Europe's efforts to integrate the Muslim population.