Patterico's Pontifications

1/7/2017

Nat Hentoff, 1925-2017

Filed under: General — JVW @ 7:52 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Nat Hentoff, who gravitated from the political left towards a more eclectic mix of conservative and libertarian beliefs but who remained a staunch defender of the First Amendment throughout, died earlier this evening, as announced by his son on Twitter:

Hentoff was an East Coaster his entire life, born and educated in Boston and later a fixture in the East Village scene of New York City where he served as a columnist for the Village Voice. Mostly associated with liberal causes such as civil rights legislation, campus free speech, and protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, Hentoff scandalized leftists when he later came out against abortion, supported Israel, and criticized political correctness over the last two decades of his life. The Village Voice dropped him as a columnist after a half-century of service in 2008, at which point Hentoff joined the Cato Institute and began writing for WorldNetDaily.

I’m not a devoted follower of jazz, so I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of Hentoff’s writing on Dizzy Gillespie or Duke Ellington. I was surprised to learn that he apparently also wrote about country music, which seems an unlikely interest for an East Coast urban athiest with Jewish parents, so I’ll have to try to find some of that writing and check it out.

In celebrating the life of Nat Hentoff we honor someone who stayed true to his belief in our Constitutional liberties, but who did not let political dogma outweigh his conscience or his keen sense of right and wrong. May he rest in peace.

– JVW

53 Responses to “Nat Hentoff, 1925-2017”

  1. And he smoked a pipe. Let’s see a New York-based writer today look so distinguished and not like some dopey hipster pretending to be an adult.

    JVW (6e49ce)

  2. Hentoff in the end was the more modern version of Ronald Reagan’s comment that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him. Hentoff’s views from the 1960s to his death remained consistent, but what it required to remain a member in good standing of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party changed drastically during that time, to where their claims of championing freedom of expression a half century ago morphed into attempts to maintain rigid control of PC conformity via silencing of any dissenting voices.

    The ‘heckler’s veto’ as practiced by special interest groups became the driving force of the movement Hentoff once was a part of. As a First Amendment absolutist, he no longer had a place among people demonizing censorship of any speech or ideas they disagreed with.

    John (ac6800)

  3. Beautifully said. I remember him from segments on NYC radio. Is the Village Voice still publishing?

    Steven Rosenberg (315d9d)

  4. There aren’t a lot of genuine intellectuals on the left anymore. Hentoff’s biography and experiences are a sad reminder of that and also of what Progressives and our nation have lost from revering group think over free think.

    elissa (377b6d)

  5. I didn’t know he was still alive. I thought he died some time ago.

    Sammy Finkelman (6c2cdd)

  6. Hentoff was one of the last classical liberals of the left. Today’s progressives are more interested in quashing free speech than in fostering it. Hentoff recognized that and fought against it:

    This continued desecration of the First Amendment reinforces my anger at the high proportion of public schools that no longer have mandated courses on American history. Nor is it likely they have classes on the dramatic history of what it takes to protect the First Amendment and much of the rest of the Constitution.

    If this ignorance among many in future generations continues, who will Americans then be? What will their answers be to Duke Ellington’s song, “What Am I Here For?”

    Walter Cronanty (f48cd5)

  7. He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday.

    My grandma died surrounded by family listening to Italian folk songs like “Santa Lucia” and the ironically named “Vivere.” We were going to have a big birthday party for her 100th but she fell into a coma and just didn’t want to go. About a week before the big day. And it was a big day as the tough old bird just wouldn’t go until she met that mark. We took shifts playing her the Italian songs she loved and spoon feeding her morphine until she finally let go the day after her 100th birthday.

    If I have any say in the matter, I’ll go whilst hunting a herd of caribou in the far north. With my Hawken rifle. And you won’t find my bones.

    Steve57 (0b1dac)

  8. The Arctic Foxes need the calcium.

    Steve57 (0b1dac)

  9. Senator Charles Sumner (R- Ma) was attacked and nearly beaten to death in the Senate chambers by congressman Preston Brooks (D- SC) for the crime of mentioning slavery in the Capital.
    This was in violation of that era’s Senate rules, just like the “nuclear option” of today.

    So please don’t ply me with the warm fuzzy ole’ timey free speech loving Democrat.

    That bullsh\t. Today. Ten years ago. Fifty years ago. As soon as they put the D on they were in favor of silencing political opponents by any means available.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  10. Godwin’s law comes from a method Frank Roosevelt used to silence news reporters. He’d say they were working for Hitler and the next day that reporter, Charles Godwin in the most famous case, would have their byline pulled.

    There ain’t no such thing as a free speech loving Democrat. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  11. Interesting & informative post, JVW, thanks — I’m glad you included all the background info for context, for I didn’t know most of it.

    You’ve got a minor typo in the last sentence (“My [sic] he rest in peace”) that you might want to correct. [Correction made. Thanks Beldar. – JVW]

    Beldar (fa637a)

  12. Re #10: “Godwin’s Law” was formulated by a former college classmate and study-group partner of mine at UT-Austin, Mike Godwin, now an American journalist. As originally stated in 1980 it dealt with Usenet groups — i.e., it’s a post internet phrase, specifically about the internet.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  13. Beldar, that’s the post internet cover story. Misplaced the proof. Give me a minute.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  14. 10. papertiger (c8116c) — 1/8/2017 @ 7:24 am

    Godwin’s law comes from a method Frank Roosevelt used to silence news reporters. He’d say they were working for Hitler and the next day that reporter, Charles Godwin in the most famous case, would have their byline pulled.

    That isn’t true at all, according to Wikipedia, and I don’t think Franklin Delano Rossevelt had the abiliy to have anewspaper columnist’s column (suddenly) pooled (Maybe some newspapers were partisan, but whatever their partisanship, it disn’t change.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law was that Godwin’s Law is named after Mike Godwin, who promulgated (invented) it in 1990. It’s named after him the way many takeoffs on Murphy’s Law are named after the people who said them. Mike Godwin himself also claims that he started it in wired in 1994: (He seeded it into as many newsgroups or topics where he thought it applied)

    https://www.wired.com/1994/10/godwin-if-2/

    What he was that in usenet newsgroup discussions (which is what used to be the Internet in those
    days) as the length of the discussion (thread) went on, the probability somebody making a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.

    A somewhat later version of Godwin’s Law is:

    http://web.archive.org/web/19991011095714/http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/legends/godwin/

    “if you mention Hitler or Nazis in a post, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion
    you were taking part in”

    And I think also, that whoever mentions that first loses the argument.

    There’s nobody by the name of Charles Godwin whose biography bears any resemblance to the stiry yout told.

    Sammy Finkelman (6c2cdd)

  15. Hentoff was no friend to Obama,either:

    Nat Hentoff has long been regarded as the conscience of civil libertarianism and liberalism for decades. He’s been recognized as one of the foremost authorities on the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court. A staff writer with The Village Voice for 51 years, Hentoff has since softened his hard-left position somewhat, but his recent declarations have surprised many. He declared that U.S. President Obama as the “most destructive, dangerous president we’ve ever had,” adding that this “is the worst state, I think, the country has ever been in.”…Hentoff detests Obama so much he has called for his impeachment. The columnist is appalled by Obama’s penchant to rule by executive order when he can’t convince Congress to do things his way.

    Walter Cronanty (f48cd5)

  16. the name of the reporter was Earl Godwin [of the Washington Times-Herald] . My bad.

    THe incident took place in 1942. In a press conference, FDR handed Earl Godwin a German Iron Cross for Godwin to pass on to the absent reporter John O’Donnell of the New York Daily News.

    THe original Godwinning from Springtime for Roosevelt.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  17. Mike Godwin was a plagerist.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  18. @ Steve57, re #7: That is a very touching and evocative anecdote about your grandmother. Thank you for sharing it.

    Re your aspiration with the caribou: If it ever turns into a plan, make sure you do appropriate estate planning; some creativity could be required to avoid inconveniencing your heirs, but it could be done consistently with your goals. 😉

    Beldar (fa637a)

  19. papertiger, Mike Godwin is a friend of mine in real life. I’m not relying on Wikipedia alone, but rather upon personal knowledge and personal correspondence with Mike. As a freshmen in UT-Austin’s Plan II Interdisciplinary Honors Program in the Fall of 1975, I was one of four students in a study group in Prof. Irwin Speer’s Biology 301 Honors course. Mike and his then-girlfriend (whose name I’ve forgotten, alas) had a common acquaintance (for them through Houston Lamar High School, for maybe a dorm suitemate?) who recommended me, because this was a very difficult course, notorious in an honors curriculum as the “weed-out” course for pre-meds. We met three times a week for an hour or so after every lecture, exchanged notes & outlines, did outside reading, etc. It paid off: We all got A grades, of which we were very proud. I kept track of Mike: He’s combined law & journalism, was the editor of the UT Daily Texan during the last year I was in law school, and later he, like me (and our host & DRJ), went to Texas Law School. I knew he was involved in internet legal issues as early as the 1980s, before he went to law school, and we traded fondly recollective emails, harking back to our Biology 301 days.

    So go peddle your conspiracy theory crap elsewhere. I call b*llsh*t, and unless you want to call me a liar, back down or shut up.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  20. And your link has nothing to do with “Godwin’s Law.” Yeah, it does include someone named Godwin, and does mention FDR and Nazis. That’s not “Godwin’s Law.”

    Beldar (fa637a)

  21. maybe her name was Eva?

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  22. I’ll tell you what, papertiger. This is from Mike’s page at Reason.com, where he’s a long-time contributing editor:

    Mike Godwin ([omitted by Beldar, but email viewable at link]@gmail.com) is general counsel and director of innovation policy at The R Street Institute, a former general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, and a contributing editor for Reason.

    Alternately, you can find his contact information here, via the State Bar of Texas’ website.

    How about you email him and ask him whether he’s the originator of “Godwin’s Law”? When you do, tell him hello from me.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  23. Beldar @1/8/2017 @ 10:46 am, she was a wonderful woman an is it any wonder boats were in my future.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=LTWJ8OQwjME

    Salerno ain’t Venezia.

    Steve57 (0b1dac)

  24. What does your knowing Mike or Mike being able to answer a phone have to do with it?

    Doesn’t change the fact that FDR originated the “call him a Nazi, Hitler, fascist to shut him up” debate tactic, or the fact that the Democrats have specialized in silencing their opposition since forever.

    Nat might have been nice to puppies but that doesn’t excuse him from the big fat D next to his name, and if he mouthed muted platitudes toward his respect of freedom of expression, it was half hearted and mostly directed toward affording his fellow speech code enforcers a tepid “we aren’t all like that” defense.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  25. the pic is super-cute though Mr. tiger

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  26. i bet next time san francisco gets kicked in the balls by an erfcake this sneering cow is gonna wonder why nobody wants to hit up gofundme for them

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  27. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=1uSFVt7tC5U

    Note the horse guard being protected by the cops.

    All kinds of wrong here people.

    Steve57 (0b1dac)

  28. 16. papertiger (c8116c) — 1/8/2017 @ 9:15 am

    the name of the reporter was Earl Godwin [of the Washington Times-Herald] . My bad.

    The incident took place in 1942. In a press conference, FDR handed Earl Godwin a German Iron Cross for Godwin to pass on to the absent reporter John O’Donnell of the New York Daily News.

    Both newspapers were very anti-Roosevelt and isolationist, and owned by different members of the same family. And there was a third one – the Chicago Tribune.

    I think I may have read somewhere about a reporter and FDR “awarding” him an Iron Cross but don’t remember any names.

    There’s a Wikipedia article about Earl Godwin (1881 – 1956)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Godwin_(radio_newsman)

    Earl Godwin was president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 1938 and was on friendly terms with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is apparently better known for his syndicated
    radio broadcasts on the NBC Blue Network from 1936 to 1949. The NBC Blue Network was the predecessor of ABC.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Network is really not clear about all of that and this history is something I never familiarized myself with.

    Here is the Chicago Tribune article on page 5 of the December 20, 1942 issue about the Iron Cross incident.

    http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1942/12/20/#page/5/article/f-d-r-outburst-called-new-low-in-vilification/

    Sammy Finkelman (6c2cdd)

  29. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., says President-elect Donald Trump’s son has helped it raise $16.3 million over the last decade.

    “I am amazed by the many ways that you have personally embraced our cause for our children and families,” Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president of the hospital’s fundraising organization, wrote in a Dec. 30 letter to Eric Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.

    fortunately the pig-sniffing fake news anderson cooper propaganda sluts have put a stop to this nonsense

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  30. FDR had the World War I vintage Iron Cross because some journalist had earlier given it to him as a souvenir.

    But this probably has nothing to do with the original of the term “Godwin’s Law.”

    Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have anything on John O’Donnell (1896 – 1961) but there’s something called metapedia, which Google turned up.

    http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/John_O'Donnell

    O’Donnell may have deserved his Iron Cross, at least in part. At the time when FDR Told Godwn to deliver it there was a lawsuit pending brought by O’Donnell against David Stern and the hiladelphia Record after an editorial described him as a Naziphile and an anti-semite. (this as way before New York Times vs Sullivan. His 12-year old marriage with Doris Fleeson, (1901-1970) the co-author of his column New York Daily News column “Capital Stuff” collapsed over differences about what to say about foreign and domestic policy during the first part of World War II. They divorced in 1942. I remember later editions of “Capital Stuff” She went her way, became a war corrrespondent for awhile and later write another widely circulated column.

    Sammy Finkelman (6c2cdd)

  31. I don’t know who I would vote for. I’d write in the name Edward Snowden for being so helpful in showing us what the government has been doing to us, rather then what they’ve been doing for us… – Nat Hentoff.

    I apologize Nat for besmirching your name.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  32. happyfeet (28a91b) — 1/8/2017 @ 12:30 pm

    fortunately the pig-sniffing fake news anderson cooper propaganda sluts have put a stop to this nonsense

    Not entirely. The Trump golf courses and hotels will stll ask people to contribute but ask them to make contributions directly to the hospital. But what stopped was the fundraising bcaus of the idea how can ask people for money while he’s the son of the president of the United States – or that at least some elements of that wouldn’t look good. But he could engage in political fundraising! The president himself could. Nobody would complain. Of course in such cases every contribution over $200 is recorded.
    OK, maybe the lunch with Ivanka wouldn’t look so good anymore.

    Sammy Finkelman (6c2cdd)

  33. Of course in such cases every contribution over $200 is recorded.

    oh. That’s not how the Clinton Foundation does it.

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  34. better link

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  35. If I have any say in the matter, I’ll go whilst hunting a herd of caribou in the far north. With my Hawken rifle. And you won’t find my bones.

    The old joke is that the best way to go is to suddenly drop dead from a heart attack, in the bed of your 19-year-old girlfriend, just as her boyfriend is coming up the stairs.

    JVW (6e49ce)

  36. another good way to die is to have a massive stroke when you’re in the cockpit flying barack obama and valerie jarrett to the gorden grobes where they’re to be honored for their documentary about how awful it was that the persians nuked israel in the summer of 2021

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  37. He was one of the honest liberals in the late 60’s & 70’s.

    gbear (70736b)

  38. Beldar @18, my Grandma was a Texan before you were a Texan.

    As for the rest, well, the JAG has been nagging me to update my Last Will and Testament since like forever. And I largely take my lawyers’ advice.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOjNOAhJV6o

    Rod Stewart, dedicating one to the troops.

    And like him, I’ll be sailing. Maybe 30 years from now.

    Steve57 (0b1dac)

  39. You would think WE would have people going out and committing civil disobedience. I’m not usually in favor of getting arrested, but during the Vietnam war I was among a lot of people who for the first time committed civil disobedience at ralleys. You don’t have to have that but you have to have the anger and the understanding of what’s going on. We don’t have that now when we have the most dictatorial President [refering to Obama] we have ever had. To add a touch of bizarro to this, he was the guy who taught the constitution at the University of Chicago. I think those kids should get part of their tuition back. – Nat Hentoff

    Nat Hentoff on Free speech , Jazz and FIRE [YouTube]

    I have too much of the anger, but not enough of the understanding.

    I think I love this old man.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  40. Senator Charles Sumner (R- Ma) was attacked and nearly beaten to death in the Senate chambers by congressman Preston Brooks (D- SC) for the crime of mentioning slavery in the Capital.
    This was in violation of that era’s Senate rules, just like the “nuclear option” of today.

    This is not true at all. So I wasn’t surprised to see your crazy refusal to accept that Mike Godwin invented Godwin’s Law.

    Sumner’s offense was a highly sexualized attack on Senator Andrew Butler, all supporters of slavery, and the whole state of South Carolina. He portrayed them both as johns and as rapists. To southerners, with their honor culture, it was “fighting words”. Imagine someone talking that way about black people today, and what would surely happen to such a person.

    As for Godwin, I was there on usenet when he made and spread his observation. Your characterisation of it as ‘the “call him a Nazi, Hitler, fascist to shut him up” debate tactic’ just demonstrates your own ignorance. Godwin’s law is pretty much the exact opposite of that tactic. It’s simply an observation that the argumentum ad hitlerum has a high tendency to be invoked in online discussion, and that once it’s been made it’s difficult to say anything further that is useful. It does not mean that making it is inappropriate, let alone that it somehow disproves or discredits the maker’s opinion. That is a later misuse that arose, and that has never made any sense to me.

    Milhouse (40ca7b)

  41. Nat might have been nice to puppies but that doesn’t excuse him from the big fat D next to his name, and if he mouthed muted platitudes toward his respect of freedom of expression, it was half hearted and mostly directed toward affording his fellow speech code enforcers a tepid “we aren’t all like that” defense.

    You literally have no idea what you’re talking about, and you ought to shut up. Not because anyone is making you, but because every time you post you make a fool of yourself.

    Milhouse (40ca7b)

  42. This discussion of Godwin’s Law makes it quite clear who’s been online before 1998, doesn’t it?

    I first heard of Godwin’s Law 20 years ago, but I never heard papertiger’s characterization or anecdote before. It’s like seeing the first ever blog comment saying “tow the line”, or “loose” for “lose”.

    Gabriel Hanna (678b43)

  43. The first grammar Nazi reference was …

    Give me a minute. I’ll get back to you, Gabriel.

    papertiger (c8116c)


  44. if he mouthed muted platitudes toward his respect of freedom of expression, it was half hearted and mostly directed toward affording his fellow speech code enforcers a tepid “we aren’t all like that” defense.

    You literally have no idea what you’re talking about, and you ought to shut up.

    It’s true, I had never heard of Nat Hentoff at all up until this obit, but I sure pegged Milhouse.
    Right to the floor. Didn’t need glue or nails.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  45. Of course in such cases every contribution over $200 is recorded.

    I was talking about political contribtions. A campaign, can, of course, record and report $1 contributions, too and I think Lew (Yehuda) Levin’s treasurer did that for him run for Congress in 1984 – at least he recorded it.

    Sammy Finkelman (643dcd)

  46. @papertiger: Proverbs 18:7

    You were in a hole, and you kept digging. But it’s never too late to get out.

    Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1)

  47. Hole?

    Why whatever do you mean, Gabe?

    If you have an earlier example of someone claiming to win a debate by calling their opposition a Nazi feel free to produce it.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  48. It’s true, I had never heard of Nat Hentoff at all up until this obit

    But then you immediately declared that, “There ain’t no such thing as a free speech loving Democrat. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”

    Do you not see the problem with this?

    JVW (6e49ce)

  49. I apologised to Nat. But by my reading at the time of Nat’s push for freedom of speech he had converted to libertarianism.
    By inference he had turned his back to the Democrats over the Vietnam War.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  50. Let’s try it from a different angle.

    His favorite politician to quote was James Madison. That puts Nat in the Republican camp, opposed to the big state Federalism of Hamilton.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  51. Nat has a Republican ethos, if not a voting card.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  52. Watch him single out John Adams, the Federalist, for special condemnation in the video I linked.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  53. I couldn’t find a reference for the original “grammar nazi”.

    So instead a joke.

    Q. How do you console a grammar nazi? A. Their, they’re.

    papertiger (c8116c)


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