Against the Horticulturalists

Dwight Macdonald died in December 1982, almost 20 years ago.  I went up to New York for his funeral.  There were few New York intellectuals, prominent or not, at that gathering—which, properly and decently, had something like a family atmosphere.  He had been living in the very middle of New York, and, yes, he was ill and morose for some time; but the interest in him—indeed, the respect—had been largely abandoned by the younger set of public writers and other literati, including those whom he had helped years before.  Into their intellectual and social categories, he did not fit.  But 15 or more years later, his reputation (a word that he would dismiss, or even despise) has—no matter how slightly—risen.  Another generation of thoughtful young people and serious readers, scattered across this vast country, includes men and women who respond to Macdonald’s prose and respect him for the probity of his thinking.  They must somehow sense that the outdated and corroding categories of “conservative” and “liberal” really do not (and did not) apply to him.  Dwight Macdonald was a radical and a traditionalist—which, in our technological age, is no contradiction.  “Traditionalist,” even more than “radical,” perhaps describes him best.  That, I think, is the source of what I hope is his slowly growing appeal.


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