Reading My Own Obits

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 2 2015 @ 5:00pm

That’s how the past week has felt. Tyler Cowen went so far as to call me “the most influential public intellectual of the last 20 years.” Here’s how you make a blogger blush:

I thought long and hard before selecting Andrew for the designation of most influential public intellectual. Perhaps Paul Krugman has changed more minds, but his agenda hasn’t much changed the world; we haven’t, for instance, gone back to do a bigger fiscal stimulus. Peter Singer led large numbers of people into vegetarianism and veganism and gave those practices philosophic respectability; he is second on my list. A generation ago, I would have picked Milton Friedman, for intellectual leadership in the direction of capitalist and pro-market reforms. But that is now long ago, and the Right has produced no natural successor.

TNC penned an appreciation of my being wrong:

Andrew has never been a prophet, so much as a joyous heretic. Andrew taught me that you do not have to pretend to be smarter than you are. And when you have made the error of pretending to be smarter, or when you simply have been wrong, you can say so and you can say it straight–without self-apology, without self-justifying garnish, without “if I have offended.”

And there is a large body of deeply curious readers who accept this, who want this, who do not so much expect you to be right, as they expect you to be honest. When I read Andrew, I generally thought he was dedicated to the work of being honest. I did not think he was always honest. I don’t think anyone can be. But I thought he held “honesty” as a standard–something can’t be said of the large number of charlatans in this business.

Honesty demands not just that you accept your errors, but that your errors are integral to developing a rigorous sense of study. I have found this to be true in, well, just about everything in life. But it was from Andrew that I learned to apply it in this particular form of writing. I am indebted to him. And I will miss him–no matter how much I think he’s wrong, no matter the future of blogging.

Damon Linker agrees that much of the reaction to my decision to stop blogging reads “an awful lot like obituaries.” How his tribute ends:

When critics praise him, they usually point to the sheer volume of prose he produced. It is impressive. But not nearly as remarkable as what the prose conveyed, which was opinions, positions, judgments by the boatload. Always an on-the-spot evaluation at the ready — and far more often than not, an interesting one. One worth sharing. One worth pondering. One provocative and distinctive and irritating and quirky enough to inspire readers to come back the next day. And the next.

It could be exhilarating, but also acutely embarrassing. Sullivan learned early on that in this new medium, glibness had become an intellectual virtue. Just look — and judge. Immediately. Where the academic-scientific ideal seeks to bracket emotions and other non-rational aspects of subjectivity, the blogger-intellectual trusts his emotions, follows them, permitting a gut reaction to events. Sullivan practiced passionate thinking, right before our eyes.