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January 10 2017

Nat Hentoff, Champion of Liberty, RIP

Charlotte Hays

The actress Meryl Streep is probably being hailed for bravely getting up to accept the Cecil B. DeMille  award at the Golden Globes and saying absolutely what everybody in the room thinks. That doesn't take courage.

You know what took courage? Defending free speech and being prolife, while at the same time being a prominent writer for the Village Voice and other lefty publications. I refer of course to the late Nat Hentoff, who died over the weekend.

Unlike Streep and other practitioners of Hollywood Courage, Hentoff took deeply thought out positions that drew ire from his own side.  The New York Times obituary has a good summary of his life.

Jack Fowler at National Review has a remembrance of Hentoff that is well worth reading. He quotes from Hentoff's column describing "hooting, screaming, pounding and whistle blowing" at New York's Union League Club when Hentoff and the late Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey debated whether people on the left can embrace the positions these two men held on abortion.

Fowler comments Casey's and Hentoff's being shouted off the stage:

Their glory is in their shame. It was an infamous event that has seen itself repeated many times, and with great intensity, over the years; and over them, Hentoff was on hand to bear witness to the assault on free speech in places where open debate and discussion were supposed to be the rule, and to call out those who were supposed to be protectors of the First Amendment.

I can't add to that, but I would like to recall that Hentoff once graciously contributed to a symposium published in the Independent Women's Forum's old The Women's Quarterly. It was entitled "A Reading List for Every Young Women." Hentoff led his list with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. He picked it because it showed:

How to see through the looking glass at people for whom words mean only what they choose for them to mean--and the ever contemporary Red Queen's insistence: "Verdict first, trial afterwards."

His other choices were Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn ("unsentimental diversity of characters and its transcendence of race through elemental humanity"). Dickens' Bleak House ("Down Alice’s rabbit hole of justice through serpentine court systems"), and W. H. Auden's Collected Poems (which Hentoff felt contained a "prescient perception" of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Hentoff did not like).
 



 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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