Jacoby versus Chomsky

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 11 07:16:22 MST 2002

Russell Jacoby wrote:
>         Thank you for your measured comments about my piece. I am
> pleased that the revolutionary anti-imperalistic masses have such
> courgeous and astute thinkers like yourself showing them the way.
> RJ

No problem. Here are some other reactions from the net, where my post
circulated widely:


Russell Jacoby, whose wife Naomi Glauberstein writes restaurant reviews
in Los Angeles, is an old fogy, not a young fogy. I remember him as a
graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

He never was that far to the left in any case. What reason can a man
like this, who must be contemplating retirement, now want to join the
ranks of the demoralized ex-left like Cooper, Hitchens and such?

At least a famous journalist, whose name was spelled just like mine, and
who had spent the great bulk of his life as a liberal ideologist for the
discredited capitalist system had the decency to go out fighting
militantly against the war in Vietnam.

Walter Lippmann


Lou Proyect writes:

(Russell Jacoby is a history professor at UCLA who has joined the ranks
of the Chomsky bashers in the bourgeois press, alongside Michael Berube
and other scoundrels. I suspect that he is now polishing up a piece on
Ramsey Clark and the Workers World Party for the Wall Street Journal
editorial page.


More likely he's putting together something for the UCLA house journal
otherwise known as New Left Review.

I read Jacoby's "End of Utopia" and quite enjoyed it although it is a
seriously flawed work. It's essentially "The Last Intellectuals, part
3", and the law of díminishing returns is evident in that the novelty of
his lampooning the silly posturings of poseur-leftists (post-postist
post-its) has worn off, and that his lack of a solidly argued
alternative is beginning to be a telling weakness.

At the time it was published, Jacoby's book could still be read as a
call to those on the left not to succumb to the defeatism which seemed
to afflict many during the 1990s when the Soviet Union was no more,
China had committed itself to capitalism, and the end of history was
conventional wisdom. Perhaps we forget much of the despondency that was
characteristic of much of the left that did not sell out in the wake of
the Soviet collapse. Jacoby seemed to be saying, not unlike Daniel
Singer, that there is indeed an alternative, contrary to whatever the
hucksters and cheerleaders for capitalism say. Unlike Singer, however,
Jacoby's total lack of ability to relate to the working class showed
through, since his utopianism, although in no way clearly defined (he
was arguing in favour of the *idea* of utopia, of utopia as a legitimate
political pursuit, as in political theory), was in no way informed of
the realism borne of actual struggle. Jacoby very enjoyably ridicules
the pretensions of various "leftist" writers, but aside from some astute
literary criticism there's not much else to work with. Rescuing Matthew
Arnold might be a worthwhile project, but as the basis for a political
programme it's hardly sufficient.

Thus it's not so surprising that he should be taking to task someone who
is, in fact, engaged in real struggle. But the depths to which he has
plumbed in this instance are a clear signal that his preferred society
is indeed a utopia -- one in which imperialism and its consequences are
airbrushed out of the picture.

Michael Keaney


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