It would have been dereliction of duty for Cockburn to pass up a party for Marty, as the invitation cheerily put it. Marty is, of course, Martin Peretz, the former panjandrum of the New Republic, lecturer at Harvard, and champion of Israel, not to mention a host of other worthy causes. A revolving door of staffers and editors not only ensured a constant swirl of attention during his decades-long tenure at the helm of the magazine, but also kept it at the forefront of political debate about race, culture and foreign affairs.
On Thursday night, Peretz greeted numerous well-wishers and offered brief remarks about his scintillating new memoir, The Controversialist, whose publication was overseen by Adam Bellow. For all the controversy that has accompanied Peretz’s life and writings, the event honoring him had a disarmingly harmonious feel to it. No one was tossed into the glistening swimming pool for a stray political comment or caustic personal remark. (Has the intellectual class, traumatized by Trump, lost its edge?) Instead, for a moment, at the Washington, DC home of Michael Kinsley, the former longtime editor of TNR, as it is known to aficionados, it was back to the future as the presence of a bevy of former staffers ranging from Andrew Sullivan to Charles Lane to Jeffrey Rosen conjured up an earlier era, when liberals fought for liberalism and were awake, as it were, to the perils of a nascent wokeism on the left.
This remembrance of things past brought to mind the Oxford don and wit Maurice Bowra, who, when asked how old someone was, usually replied: “Our Age.” In his book Our Age, the historian Noel Annan used that remark as a way of describing the generation who made postwar Britain. It went to the right schools and parties. It formed opinion, set policies and sought, more or less, to do the right thing.
The party for Marty had a distinct generational feel to it, even a valedictory tone — “the country has changed,” Peretz noted, especially since the days when the New Republic under his stewardship helped to defend and define liberalism. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and others reminisced about what it was like to study under Peretz at Harvard, while others waxed nostalgic about TNR during the 1980s and 1990s. Others briefly indulged in gloomy vaticinations about what America would resemble under a second Trump term.
Cockburn cannot help noting that neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times has seen fit to review Peretz’s book. That is their loss. His book constitutes not simply a recollection of a personal political odyssey, but a significant historical document about Jewish life in New York during the 1940s, about the turbulence of the 1960s and about the backlash against left-wing radicalism during subsequent decades. It is also filled with shrewd character judgments and trenchant asides about politics and culture. Peretz may not be a conservative, but he has always had the right stuff.