Leon Wieseltier
Literary Editor

Washington Diarist: Platon's Cave
December 18, 2009

I am as worldly as the next dreamer, but the scales fell from my eyes, the same ones that keep finding their way back to my eyes, when I opened The New Yorker a few weeks ago and found, in a portfolio of “portraits of power,” Mussolini’s full-page face piggishly staring at me in chicly lurid detail, the very emblem of brutality made aesthetically acceptable. And when I turned the page there was Franco, in full generalissimo kit gazing coldly forward, every hair on his heartless mustache uncannily vivid in a miracle of photographic verisimilitude. Is nobody any longer beyond the pale?

Washington Diarist: Membership
November 29, 2009

Since the only pain we experience is our own pain, and since our own pain is often not the most hideous pain, particularly if we live far from history’s savageries and inside a middle-class existence that was designed to insulate us from all the pain that can be separated from the decay of the body and its death--since all this is the case, morality follows the imagination. This association may offend prudes and dandies, but the only way to be moved by misery with which one has no personal acquaintance is to imagine it.

Washington Diarist: Unmending Wall
November 19, 2009

The absence of Barack Obama from Berlin on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall may be explained in many ways, and one of the explanations may be his view of the world. He is kein Berliner. No, he is not soft on communism, not least because there is no longer any communism, at least of the classical kind, to be soft on. In the video message that was broadcast to the commemoration--it allowed him once again to have the stage to himself, and to describe his own election as a climactic event in “human destiny”--Obama spoke all the right words for all the right sentiments.

Washington Diarist: Common Grounded
October 27, 2009

The notion of a world society is nothing new to Americans. It dominated the rhetoric of World War II, of the founding of the United Nations, of much of the cold war. It is now a received idea, and its impress may be measured by the success with which advocates have found audiences for issues defined in international terms: the world environmental problem; the world population problem; the world food problem." Those words, platitudes now, were written presciently in 1975, and continued: "Much of this internationalist rhetoric is based on things real enough.

Washington Diarist: The Trend in Dying
October 08, 2009

Happy is the eye that saw all this, but our souls were anguished by what our ear heard." This is the refrain of an ancient poem in the liturgy of Yom Kippur, a lament for its author's belatedness.

Washington Diarist: With Respect to What
September 18, 2009

Travel westward along Massachusetts Avenue, down from Capitol Hill, and you will run into Edmund Burke. He seems to be hailing a cab, hand raised high, fingers parted, his whole form tense with the attempt to seize your attention; but in fact he is in mid-expostulation. This is the torsion of argument. The bronze statue, a copy of a late nineteenth-century one that stands in Bristol, which Burke immortally represented in Parliament, is eight feet tall, and was presented to Washington in 1922 by a British organization devoted to Anglo-American comity.

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.