Monday, February 13, 2006

We Get Noticed

This is probably old news to everybody but me, but this blog gets links from Wikipedia's entries on David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen. (I looked Nick up because his latest Observer piece on falling standards in schools and universities seemed so unselfconsciously crusty that I wanted to find out old he is. Wikipedia doesn't know.) I'm a fan of Wikipedia, I check just about every hunch or half-remembered factlet against it. It's usually very fair, and on my first reading of Nick's entry I thought that was objectively-written too. But this grates:

Cohen is known for the promotion of an independent, enlightened, democratic left-wing secular humanism. As such, he is regarded by supporters as belonging to an intellectual tradition that includes radical writers such as George Orwell and Albert Camus.

The first sentence is OK -- though I'd place commas after "democratic" and "left-wing" -- apart from the words "enlightened" and "independent". "Enlightened" really means nothing at all; "independent" may mean something, if we knew what Nick's humanism was supposed to be independent of. I do think Nick can be placed in "an intellectual tradition that includes radical writers". No problem there. And I do think that tradition could be said to include Orwell and Camus. (Though I find the comparison, thus stated, somewhat overly-flattering.) But not for the secular humanism bit, which is one of Nick's most salient assets. If it were that, he's closer to Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins (though again not in their league). Rather he does have something of Orwell's phrase for himself -- "libertarian socialist". He used to be more concerned for both the underdog and civil liberties than is common among hacks and muckrakers. But the radical writer he most resembles to me, and I mean this with as little prejudice as possible, is Christopher Hitchens (the Hitchens of up to the late 90s, anyway).
There's a strain of American left-wing journalism, and my ignorance is so deep that I can't even begin to name names properly, which seeks out conspiracies in government, is reflexively cynical about politicians, and equally nauseated by the facile pieties of both Republicans and Democrats, and Nick is closer to that than any British or Continental writing.
This is really just an open thread, which I'd have been better off calling "How would you describe Nick Cohen?" So go for it in the comments. The Aaro entry is near-faultless (apart from the clumsy, "He became involved in print journalism in 1995 ..." as if print journalism's eyes and his met across a crowded room or something).


Anonymous evil bruschettaboy said...

the bit about Camus, which otherwise looks rather incongruous, is a reference to "Terror and Liberalism" which has a whole chapter about AC.

2/13/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Funnily enough I was editing the Nick Cohen article only yesterday. I added the 'critics argue...' bit in the second paragraph to replace the 'have been misconstrued as...', which was 'blatant POV' as the chaps over there say, but someone seems to have put it back in, while also leaving in my edit. It reads awfully, and Wikipedia is currently locked for editing, so I can't change it right now, grrr.

I also added the 'in the aftermath of September 11' bit and the block quote that follows it. Until then it had been entirely a biography of Decent Nick (and an obviously favourable one, too), whereas now it does at least give an indication of his political journey, albeit it could do with more detail and some tightening up.

If anyone wants to finish my work, feel free. I don't mean by vandalising it, just by balancing and contextualising it a bit so criticisms of Nick (particularly Decent Nick) are better reflected.

2/13/2006 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

As it's stand up and be counted time, I put the link in to this site (and I think for Aaro's bio too), and I changed some of the text to make the point Simon does, though only the bit about opposing the war in Afghanistan (and putting the prissy quote, which I'm pleased Simon has put in) into the Wikiquotes bit.

2/13/2006 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

Evil BB, what does "Terror and Liberalism" say about Camus? They still seem very strange antecedents to me. I suppose I think of Orwell as a novelist and literary critic, and Camus as a novelist and philosopher. I know both were "left wing" and "political" but those aren't the first associations I make with either. Nick Cohen is a regular political journalist.

RK in the post which follows this one names some of the names I couldn't. There's an IF Stone quote about gadflies which I can't remember. Something about a lot of journalists thinking they are an irritant to power, and few of them actually being so.

2/13/2006 08:58:00 PM  

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