Leftist Trends Can’t Categorically Dismiss Dissenters

Sometimes, when I want to get my monthly fill of pretentious long-form magazine reading in, I’ll go to Harper’s Magazine website and peruse the recent articles. Generally, I expect to read longwinded left-of-center diatribes against some political idea or policy I already know I don’t like or perhaps explore the history of something interesting that doesn’t have any implication on my life.  For example, in this most recent edition, I really enjoyed reading “Destined for Export: The Troubled Legacy of Foreign Adoptions.” I am not adopted. None of my friends or family members are adopted (at least that I know of), and I do not currently plan on adopting a child.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the read. 

When I finish reading an article in Harper’s Magazine or any other literary equivalent, my appetite for pretentiousness is generally sated, and I am embarrassingly proud of myself that I spent my time doing something other than binge watching Netflix’s flavor of the month.  Sometimes, albeit rarely, an article will affect me in a more profound manner than most. The most recent article to have had such an impact appeared in Harper’s Magazine January 2019 edition. It was called “Donald Trump is a Good President: One Foreigner’s Perspective.” Penned by the famed French novelist, filmmaker and poet Michel Houellebecq (a man described by The Guardian as “France’s biggest literary export and, some say, greatest living writer”), it offered rather shocking and unusual praise for a man that is almost universally painted as a barbaric, oafish tyrant in these liberal periodicals. 

I think that before I continue, it is important to note that Houellebecq did not fundamentally alter my opinion on our president. As I have rather routinely noted in this opinion section, I am no fan of Donald Trump. In fact, I tend to agree with his far more common descriptors in these magazines. I think he is barbaric, oafish and tyrannical. Houellebecq’s article was not so notable to me because of the ideas he presented, but because of what they represented. Namely, it reminded me that some smart people really do still support this president, and they cannot simply be discounted.

I am from a wealthy Jewish suburb of Los Angeles. When I go home, it is hard to remember that anyone still supports the president, let alone almost half of the country. I routinely have to remind my parents that I actually know Trump supporters in Winston-Salem, and, in fact, I think that many of them are decent people with atrocious political opinions.  Immediately after reading Houellebecq’s piece, I searched for reactions on the Internet. Many people, including well-known journalists, questioned why Harper’s would even consider publishing such brazen praise for the evil orange man that runs our country. This criticism of the magazine is cowardly and anti-intellectual. Harper’s Magazine would be failing its readers if it refused to publish the piece. Houellebecq, though less notable in the United States than Europe, is still a bona fide A-list cultural critic. Subscribers of the magazine are privileged to read his opinions, even the terrible ones. Moreover, he is without a doubt a brilliant man who has proven his worth many times over.  To deny him a seat at the court of public opinion would be a shirk of the magazine’s duties. 

I am liberal, though it is becoming more and more embarrassing to admit to my left-of-center attitude. We liberals often call climate-change deniers and creationists anti-intellectuals. Many are. However, we are no better than our counterparts as soon as we forget that there are smart people on both ends of the spectrum. It should not be shocking that Harper’s Magazine published Houellebecq’s piece.  Rather, it will be outrageous when the anti-intellectualism that has afflicted the left seeps so deep that Michel Houellebecq can no longer see his work printed in Harper’s Magazine

  • sengssk

    I’ve been reading Harper’s since college over 20 years ago and I can be considered a paleo-con. The internet makes it so easy to construct comfortable echo chambers. To actively seek serendipity and high quality dissent is a virtue. I was a news junkie and newspaper clipping hoarder since before home internet service. This is how I deal with a torrent of information now to efficiently stay up on regular events and to catch the unexpected gems: I use the Feedly app and subscribe to the RSS feeds of Harper’s, NYT, WSJ, Vox, Marginal Revolution, Longreads, National Review, First Things, Baffler, n+1, Areo, Quilette, etc. In the morning, I refresh and get about 100 to 200 headlines. If the headline looks interesting, I open the article and save it using the Pocket app to read offline later. If there’s a good quote, it can be highlighted later.