In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Blowing ItIan Hamilton

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Breaking Ranks 
by Norman Podhoretz.
Weidenfeld, 385 pp., £7.95, February 1980, 0 297 77733 5
Show More
Show More

The scene: a New York literary dinner some nine months ago. The topic: who I’d seen or hadn’t seen since my arrival, who I planned to see, etc. Me: ‘Well, I’ve seen X’ (‘Oh yes, how is X?’) ‘and tomorrow i’ll be seeing Y’ (‘Oh good, give my regards to Y’). ‘And on Friday, I’m having lunch with Norman Podhoretz.’ At this, the table froze. ‘You’re doing what? I repeated it, gently but with resolution, and the freeze froze even deeper. ‘But, but’ – and this with genuinely aghast reproach – ‘but, Ian, really, why?

This little scene, or something very like it, was played out on at least three other occasions during my short visit. For me, the ‘why’ was clear enough. I knew Podhoretz somewhat, he was the editor of a literary/intellectual magazine (Commentary) that I’d read on and off for years, he had some time ago asked me to write for him, and one of the reasons I was in New York was to drum up a bit of work. Why shouldn’t I have lunch with him? That question was never answered, and if I pressed I would be treated to mysterious sighs and headshakings, as if my not knowing why put me hopelessly beyond the reach of explanation.

In London, I would have deduced from all this that Norman had committed some reverberant sexual folly: but, greenhorn though I was, I did know enough about New York (and indeed about Podhoretz) to rule out any such spicy exegesis. It had to be to do with something serious, like fame or power or money. Or politics? Well, maybe. I knew that Podhoretz had long ago drifted away from his old Partisan Review chums, that in the late Sixties he had been hostile to many of the standard ‘radical’ postures, that he was a contemptuous opponent of popular culture, somewhat shaky on the ‘Negro problem’ – he once proposed widescale miscegenation as the only real answer to inbred black/white hostilities – and I knew too that he was lately taking some pride in fostering a new, virulently anti-Soviet ‘politics of interest’ – or, some would say, self-interest. I’d also heard that he was becoming very fierce about gays, dykes and nukes – indeed, any new or fashionable grouping that got in the way of the immediate and pressing task of rebuilding American morale. It was easy to see, then, that he was not going to be popular in the leftish-liberal circles he used to half-belong to. And one would expect his ex-colleagues to speak of him satirically or sternly. What I couldn’t fathom, though, was why he had become near-leprous in his unacceptability.

The obvious explanation, and the one which Podhoretz himself would wish us to accept, is that radicals reserve a special loathing for ex-radicals. The real trouble, he contends, is fear: the Partisan Review/New York Review crowd are locked into positions left over from the Sixties, positions which in their hearts they know to be invalid. These positions were adopted in the first place because they were fashionable, they appealed to the young, they fitted certain ritual notions of ‘dissent’, ‘alienation’ and the like which were congenial, if not habitual, to leftish literary figures. Confronted now with Podhoretz, an intellectual from their own stable but different from them in being courageous and honest enough to confess his disenchantments, it is obvious that they will panic and close ranks. The dreaded name will be struck from invitation lists, rumours will be circulated that poor Norman’s round the bend, distinguished English visitors will be dissuaded from having lunch with him, and so on. Whatever happens, he must be shunted out of sight before he blows the whistle on ‘the racket’.

This is the Podhoretz version, and it is repetitively peddled throughout Breaking Ranks, but it’s a version I find hard to swallow whole. After all,on the evidence of the earlier Making It and of this whistle-blowing new memoir of his life and times, it would seem that Podhoretz has shifted ground so often that he can hardly be said to have ever formed the loyalties which he now boasts of having broken. In Making It, he admitted that he had originally gravitated towards the Partisan View circle not out of any real interest in its ‘radicalism’ or in the remains of its long-running internal squabbles of the Forties: he’d wanted, (and this was the ‘dirty little secret’ of which Making It made a clean breast) to be a famous literary critic. Similarly, he confesses in Breaking Ranks that there was something opportunistic and effortful in his quest for a new and zestful philosophy to replace the stock liberalism of the Fifties: an important new thinker needed to have a few important new thoughts. Even as he describes his tremulous excitement as he first pores over the work of Paul Goodman or Norman O. Brown, we suspect that the excitement has as much to do with these thinkers’ viability in the intellectual marketplace as with the blinding rightness of their insights. There was invariably some strategic, career-planning element in his early attempts to fit himself out with a philosophy that would be vividly novel and yet square with the left/liberal disposition of the literary powers-that-be.

Significantly, Podhoretz tended to go for panaceas that were airy and spiritual rather than practical and scientific, thus managing to postpone any career-endangering decision on what his real politics might eventually turn out to be. It is difficult to believe that (even before the confessions of Making It) anyone on the Left would seriously have believed Podhoretz to be of the Left. Perhaps they did, but surely not enough to feel betrayed and appalled when his conservatism started to show through.

Indeed, if any one was appalled, it was Podhoretz himself – appalled, or so he says, by the company he used to keep. And this is where the bile begins, and where presumably the explanation lies for his pariah status in New York. Having flirted for years with notions that were unreal to him, he now finds it impossible to believe that they were ever real to anyone else. Purged of cynicism and self-delusion, he sees only cynicism and self-delusion in those he left behind. (It is interesting that the one intellectual type to whom Podhoretz is willing to concede some measure of integrity is the bohemian/mystical/irrationalist type: in other words, a bit nuts and no threat.) The portrait he promotes of the intellectual world is peopled with time-servers, charlatans, traitors, moral thugs: if members of this world say they have a belief, our task as sceptical onlookers is to work out why they say they have it – there will always be a reason, and it will always have something to do with their lust for self-advancement, with some modish new bandwagon, some power bloc that needs to be flattered or appeased. There is no question of their having said they believed whatever it was because they, well, believed it.

It cannot be denied that our Leavis-trained commentator does now and then have a shrewd eye for the treasonable clerk (he is particularly sharp on middle-aged professors sucking up to the illiterate revolutionary young), but unfortunately Breaking Ranks is no Dunciad: it’s more like a Mafia hit-list – though not quite so cold-eyed, because Norman evidently still cares about his victims, he still ‘takes it personal’. Remembered grievances abound, old scores are systematically dredged up, no antique snub or slight is allowed to go uncensured. Much of all this comes across in the form of oblique anecdotal sneers, or reproachful innuendo. After a few chapters, one begins simply to marvel that he should think any of this really matters – to us, I mean, since clearly nothing will stop it mattering to him. By the end, it’s like having been forced to eavesdrop on some deadly, but also deadly boring, family row. Except, of course, that it’s all for publication – and there are quite a few tales (albeit fairly trivial ones) told by Podhoretz in this book which could only have been got from, as it were, within the family – or Family, as he once dubbed his New York foes.

All this will have made Podhoretz, and his book, seem less attractive than they sometimes are. Merciless in his contempt for other people’s changes of mind, failures of nerve, Podhoretz is none the less almost touchingly anxious to solicit our benevolence when we come to consider his own youthful ‘errors of judgment’; he is also keen that we should know him, how he was brought up, how he felt when he got this or that job, the kind of daily life he leads, the odd things that can happen to a chap’s psyche when he’s caught off guard:

Suddenly and with no advance warning the french doors opened and Kennedy emerged with a grin on his face as clear and brilliant as the day itself. The sight had an amazing and altogether unexpected effect on me. Staring at him while he circulated among us shaking hands, I felt a nearly ungovernable awe.

   It was a humiliating experience. Here, after all, was a man I did not admire.

One wants to say: don’t worry about it, Norman – after all, you’re only human. On the other hand, one knows all too well how he would have exploited this passage if it had been some wavering liberal describing his first glimpse of Castro. Podhoretz’s unwillingness to indulge others in the ways he himself so badly wants to be indulged is nowhere more offputting than in his resentment of the aged Lionel Trilling’s lack of vigour in opposition to the racial quota scheme for colleges. Trilling pleaded ‘fatigue’. Podhoretz leaves no doubt that he considers this a quite inadequate excuse – and Trilling had for years been a mentor of his, and a close friend.

On a personal level, such double standards run throughout the book, and they can hardly be decribed as ‘strategic’ – which is no doubt how podhoretz would explain why this chronicle of American public events over the last two decades carries only three passing references to Watergate, six to the CIA, none to Cambodia or Chile. To dwell on isolated American shortcomings is to undermine the overall objective: restoring the country’s strength and pride, getting it back into trim for the coming showdown. The critics and backbiters, the eroders from within: these are the true enemy today. At its most vehement and simple-minded, this rhetoric gets perilously close to the ends-above-means line that should be all too familiar to Podhoretz from his study of those very early Partisan Reviews. Podhoertz is fond of calling himself a professional intellectual: on the evidence of some of the more blindly flag-waving stretches of this book, he should beware of letting his estrangement from what he sees as the dominant intellectual temper push him into a retaliatory alliance with the forces of complacency.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.