Joan Didion, in Memoriam

Dec. 24 2021

The American novelist and essayist Joan Didion died yesterday, just a few weeks after her eighty-seventh birthday. In 1976, the great political scientist James Q. Wilson reviewed her most recent collection of essays—titled The White Album after its first essay, which discusses the Beatles—in Commentary. He praises her as a “splendid writer” who stood apart from her own times, in ways that make her even more unusual in 2021, beginning with the way her work resists pigeonholing into political categories:

Her latest collection of essays offers . . . a characterization of liberal Hollywood political activism as a “kind of dictatorship of good intentions,” a “peculiar vacant fervor.” And, of course, there is her well-known essay on the women’s movement in which she suggests that there are aspects of feminism that reveal a “narrow and cracked determinism” and numerous feminists who want romance rather than revolution.

The central passage is one in which she observes of her generation that it was the last to identify with adults. An adult view of the world was that it is imperfect owing less to an error in social organization than to a defect in man’s nature. The “silence” of the 1950’s reflected neither self-congratulation nor fear of repression, but a suspicion of political action as a tranquilizer that temporarily masks personal inadequacies. The world of adults was ambiguous: one had to make commitments, but of necessity they would be partial ones. There was a distinctive process called Growing Up; no one supposed, save the Beatniks, that one could or should forever remain an adolescent. But to grow up meant surrendering some measure of sincerity for some measure of accomplishment. In the 1960’s, one rejected the adult world, denied that growing up was either desirable or necessary, clung to sincerity (renamed “authenticity”) and chose to be young, which is to say self-indulgent, forever.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: American society, James Q. Wilson, Journalism

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform