Author: Cathy Young

The Posthumous #MeToo-ing of J. D. Salinger

The first day of this year would have been the 100th birthday of J.D. Salinger, the American writer whose 1951 novel of teenage rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye, mesmerized generations and made him a cult figure. The Salinger legend was only enhanced by his reclusive life in rural New Hampshire, where he shunned interviewers and photographers and continued to write but published nothing from 1965 until his death in 2010. Given both Salinger’s literary stature and his mythic aura, the centennial should have been a big deal. And yet it went by almost unremarked—a startling fact that almost certainly has more to do with the cultural and sexual politics of this moment than with Salinger’s place in literature. It is telling that the most prominent essay on Salinger to appear in the American media so far in 2019 has been a Washington Post piece questioning whether the writer is still relevant, given that his best-known work focuses on “the anxieties of a white heterosexual young man expelled from an expensive prep school.” (By that …

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment. Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been …

The Forgotten Story of How “Punching Up” Harmed the Science-Fiction/Fantasy World

The recent blowup over New York Times editorial board hire Sarah Jeong and her racially charged Twitter trail turned into a brawl over a key question in today’s cultural polemics: Whether derogatory speech about whites should be considered racist and, more generally, whether there is such a thing as anti-white racism. Most of Jeong’s defenders on the left not only argued that she shouldn’t lose her job but insisted that there was nothing particularly wrong with her white-bashing tweets, whether they were meant to mock racist trolls or criticize “white privilege.” “To equate ‘being mean to white people’ with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of minority groups is a false equivalency,” wrote Vox reporter Aja Romano in a supposedly objective “explainer.” As the Jeong drama demonstrates, the view that “woke” white-bashing is a harmless, justified, and perhaps even commendable form of “punching up” is now mainstream in liberal/progressive culture in North America (and some other Western countries). And yet another culture-war episode from four years ago—one that, as it happens, Romano also covered in …

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC

Two years ago, when the (once-) venerable Southern Poverty Law Center published a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” there was widespread outrage over the fact that the SPLC’s list included not only bona fide Muslim-bashers but also British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz—the head of the anti-extremist, reformist Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz later announced his intention to file a crowdfunded defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Now, he has won an impressive victory. The SPLC, which had already removed the “Field Guide” from its website in April, issued a retraction and an apology—and agreed to pay Nawaz a $3.4 million settlement. This week, Nawaz is scheduled to meet with SPLC president Richard Cohen, hoping both to find out more about the circumstances of his listing and to “educate” Cohen about the conflict between fundamentalism and reform within the Muslim community. A happy ending? Certainly, for Nawaz and his supporters: Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari writes that “it’s good to see the SPLC held to account for at least one of [its] smears” against people who don’t toe the progressive party …

The Problem with Candace Owens

Dissent in the ranks of so-called “marginalized groups,” often viewed as natural constituencies for the left, rarely fails to draw a backlash from progressives and sympathy from conservatives. Recently, such a controversy erupted when rap artist Kanye West voiced support on Twitter for Candace Owens, an African-American conservative YouTuber and Donald Trump supporter. West’s tweet—“I love the way Candace Owens thinks”—was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the left and much celebration on the right (partly out of sheer gloating at the left’s dismay). There has also been more thoughtful commentary, including a Quillette essay by Columbia University philosophy student Coleman Hughes looking at the ways in which standard left-of-center politics in America fail to represent the diversity of opinion in the black community. This is a healthy discussion. Unfortunately, in their understandable frustration with the social and racial orthodoxies that currently dominate liberal political culture, conservatives and libertarians risk embracing self-styled dissenters who are (to borrow a term from the social justice left) problematic allies. This is true of West, whose …

Trump’s Warsaw Speech: Defending the West or Defending Illiberalism?

The reaction to Donald Trump’s first major speech in Europe reminds me of the old Jewish joke in which two men ask a rabbi to resolve a dispute. After listening to the first one, the rabbi says, “You’re absolutely right!” Then the second man makes his case, and the rabbi replies, “Yes, you’re quite right!” The rabbi’s wife chimes in: “That makes no sense—how can they both be right?” The rabbi ponders her words and says, “You know what? You’re right, too!” Responses to Trump’s Thursday speech in Warsaw, Poland, which focused on the need to preserve and defend Western civilization and its values, have been sharply polarized along partisan lines. On the liberal side, Sarah Wildman in Vox, Peter Beinart and James Fallows in The Atlantic, and Jeet Heer in The New Republic have argued that it was at best an appeal to tribalism and at worst practically an alt-right manifesto, full of dog-whistles for white nationalists. Conservatives, even Trump’s harshest critics such as Jonah Goldberg, David French, and William Kristol, have mostly praised …

Study Suggests Society’s View of Males Has Soured

“Depressing Study Finds Gender Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Since the 1980s,” proclaimed the New York magazine website the other day. The women’s site Bustle echoed the gloomy view: “Gender Stereotypes Just As Prevalent in 2016 As In The 1980s, New Study Finds, So Maybe Things Aren’t As Great As We’d Like To Believe.” Yet a closer look at the study in question shows a far more complicated picture. While some beliefs about male and female traits and roles have indeed changed little since a similar survey in 1983, there has been a marked shift toward egalitarian attitudes on some important issues. There also seems to have been a marked shift toward more negative perceptions of men — which is arguably depressing, but probably not in the way the study’s authors and most of the commentators would like you to think. The study, published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, was carried out by psychologist Elizabeth J. Haines of New Jersey’s William Paterson University and her colleagues. Subjects, recruited online, were asked to rate on a 0-to-100 …