Invited to the Best Parties
The Philanthropist, Royal Court Theatre, London, 2017
From The Smart Set:
We all know that a book can change the shape of history. Think The Communist Manifesto and Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, not to mention the Bible and the Koran. But a book review? How much influence could a book review possibly have?
Judging from Norman Mailer’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s 1967 memoir, Making It, a lot. Serving as a catchall and a coda for the collective judgment of liberal intellectuals of the day, Mailer’s review would help turn Podhoretz against his progressive roots and harness his exceptional energy and intellect on behalf of neoconservatism, a movement that played a role in the election of Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, and Donald Trump.
Making It is an intellectual memoir written by Podhoretz when he was 37 and the editor-in-chief of the then-influential Jewish quarterly magazine, Commentary. This was the mid-1960s, a time in American life when ideas were taken seriously, when the phrase “New York intellectual,” epitomized by the left-leaning writers for Commentary and Partisan Review (a magazine for which Podhoretz also wrote), carried weight not only in New York but nationwide. The critic Murray Kempton called the writers for these publications “the family,” owing to the homogeneity of their profile (mostly Jewish, acculturated New Yorkers) and the combination of clannishness and rivalry with which they operated. Podhoretz saw himself as part of this family and Making It as both a personal memoir and a contribution to the group’s understanding of itself.
Central to the book is Podhoretz’s assertion that he wanted fame and fortune — to be known and well-published, invited to the best parties, and generously remunerated for his work. What provoked the ire of his peers was that he claimed they wanted the same things. He should have predicted their reaction. “Ambition,” he asserted, “had replaced erotic lust as the dirty little secret of the well-educated American soul.” Airing that dirty little secret was bound to have repercussions.