Leon Wieseltier
Literary Editor

Washington Diarist: Against the Plane
September 10, 2009

"Does the Magazine have an ideology?" This is the fine question that the editor of The New York Times Magazine attempted to answer last week. "At the risk of giving some of my colleagues hives," Gerald Marzorati wrote online, "I think it does." Good! A dissent, and a promise of seriousness. And then there followed this, which historians of culture may one day find useful: Call it Urban Modern. That is, I think it reflects not a left-or-right POLITICAL ideology but a geographical one, the mentality of the place [sic] it is created: 21st Century Manhattan.

Washington Diarist
August 26, 2009

On August 4, Haaretz reported that Benjamin Netanyahu called Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod self-hating Jews. A spokesman for the prime minister later denied this, but I have heard from Israeli friends that this conspiratorial explanation is quite popular in the prime minister’s office. I have no reason to believe otherwise. The accusation of ethnic infidelity is an old feature of the political culture of the Likud. The defenders of Greater Israel have values, but the critics of Greater Israel have motives.

Washington Diarist
August 12, 2009

Sometimes nothing is more enchanting than disenchantment. I had the good fortune to have been born late in the intellectual wars about Marxism, and far away from the Marxist tyrannies, and I never was a Marxist; but when I was a student I suffered for a while from the suspicion that the Marxist tradition contained important truths, and that only it contained them. Marxism, after all, explained everything; and I was not yet smart enough to hold this against it.

Washington Diarist
July 15, 2009

On a rainy day in 1993, I sat with my parents at the opening ceremonies of the Holocaust Museum and heard President Clinton, who was doing nothing to stop the genocide in Bosnia, suggest that the genocide in Bosnia must be stopped, because never again can we allow genocide to occur. My mother laconically whispered that "he talks about Bosnia as if he is somebody else." I was reminded of her distinction between the president and the rest of us when I read a piece on this magazine's website by my haver Michael Walzer, who made the same distinction but for the opposite end.

Washington Diarist: The Well-Wishers
May 20, 2009

“LET’S PUT IDEOLOGY aside; that’s so yesterday.” Those memorable words were uttered by Hillary Clinton in Santo Domingo, on her way to the Summit of the Americas. I wish to parse them. They may be read charitably and uncharitably. I will begin with charity, since in this case it goes against my grain. There are two ways in which the abdication of ideology by the Secretary of State seems understandable.

At the Window
April 15, 2009

Of three or four in a room there is always one who stands at the window. He must see the injustice among the thorns and the fires on the hill. So wrote Yehuda Amichai in 1958, and I have been feeling rather like the morbid observer who has wandered away from the warm company. The glass through which I gaze is far from the place that I lovingly and disquietedly see; I have to squint past the coercions of the media, and correct also for the distortions of solidarity. But in Israel now I see fires on the hill.

Washington Diarist: In Which We Engage
April 01, 2009

Is it really possible that in a Democratic administration the championship of human rights and the promotion of democracy will no longer figure conspicuously in the foreign policy of the United States? It is really possible. Oh, the stirring words will be spoken; the stirring words are always spoken. But in the absence of policies one may be forgiven for not being stirred by words. And so far even the language has been wanting in ardor. Idealism in foreign policy is so 2003. After all, the opposite of everything that George W. Bush believed must be true.

Washington Diarist
February 18, 2009

ON JANUARY 22, at 2:36 p.m., I received an email from President Barack Obama. “Friend,” it began. “Thank you for being part of the most open inauguration in our nation’s history.” You're welcome. I do not recall any closed inaugurations, but never mind. This is the season of the benefit of the doubt. Like anybody who knows anything about the American past, I soared when the President stated his now archetypally American name; and like anybody who has tired of the haughtiness of conservatives, I relished the Chief Justice’s fumble.

Washington Diarist: Out There
December 24, 2008

Counterfactuals are the inventions of logic or misery. The interest in an altered world is not born of contentment. But when the imagined improvement turns out also to be real—well, here is the most unlikely true story about Jews in modernity that I ever heard. It was told to me many years ago by a Jew, an American judge, who grew up in the Jewish community of Goa, in India. It happened during the partition riots in 1947. He related that rampaging gangs sometimes broke into his family’s house, armed with pistols and axes and torches, and of course with anger.

Washington Diarist
December 03, 2008

A few weeks ago, the prophet Elijah appeared to me. It was almost dusk, and he took the form of a comely woman on P Street. She wore a black dress that tightly clasped her waist and sky-high black shoes with formidable fastenings. Her dark hair was pulled back vehemently into a ponytail, and drops of sun-specked metal hung from her ears. Most remarkable of all, she was dancing. A man in a dinner jacket was her partner, but he acted mainly as a pivot for her ballroom brazenness on the sidewalk, which was executed with an admirable mixture of discipline and abandon.