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Author claims review smeared him

On Sunday, Book World published a review of Roger D. Hodge's "The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism." Hodge has taken exception to parts of the review written by Alan Wolfe of Boston College, arguing that Wolfe's interpretation is full of innuendo and smears and amounts to a misreading of the book. Here is Hodge's response to the review.

By Roger D. Hodge

Apparently the political theorists of America’s revolutionary generation are now the exclusive intellectual property of the Tea Party. That, at least, seems to be the gist of Alan Wolfe’s “review” of my book, "The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism."

“Only a conservative,” Wolfe sneers, “would choose to leave Obama and the modern world behind to write so much about the nation’s founders instead.” Is that so? Well, I declare. I thought James Madison, whose work is central to my argument, was the principal architect of the American Constitution, one of the great monuments of the liberal tradition. And it is curious that on the very same day, in the New York Times, another expert on American liberalism denounced me for being a “purist” “movement” liberal.

Wolfe’s peculiar exercise in Leninist ideological discipline is for the most part a harmless addition to its author’s undistinguished body of work. Regardless of whether or not I am secretly a conservative (a highly equivocal term, after all), the review contains other puzzlers as well. Wolfe, a professor of political science, claims to be unable to comprehend how I can reconcile the obvious contemporary need for a state strong enough to regulate capitalism with my assertion that to Americans “all arbitrary power should be suspect, whether it originates in a private corporate bureaucracy, a public welfare agency, a public-private monopoly, the CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security.”

As it happens, I can see no contradiction at all between the impartial rule of law, which is the opposite of arbitrary power, and the regulation of capitalism. Indeed, it is precisely the capricious and arbitrary assertion (or withholding) of executive authority that has been the motivating force behind the principled liberal opposition to both the Bush and the Obama Administrations, whether the laws in question are those governing warfare, detention, torture, habeas corpus, financial regulation, or mortgage fraud.

Granted, Wolfe’s article is more properly understood as a polemic than a review. Nothing wrong with that, and I have nothing against invective. It’s quite another thing, however, to make things up in order to bolster a weak case, and that is precisely what Wolfe does when he claims that I “have many nice things” to say about Sarah Palin and Ron Paul.

This assertion is manifestly false. It is so far from the truth that it can only be read as a deliberate lie. I mention Sarah Palin five times in my book, always with contempt. About Ron Paul, I merely say that liberal dissidents should make common cause with self-styled conservatives and rightist libertarians such as Paul who are critical of American militarism.

Such smears and innuendos are common in Wolfe’s work (I am happy to provide examples), though they are not often so glaringly and obviously false. His typical strategy is to construct a loose intellectual genealogy that terminates in some unsavory character, often a Nazi like Carl Schmitt; he then contrives a loose association between his target and one or more of the ideas highlighted in the genealogy; finally, he concludes with pious insinuations deploring the resulting (spurious) connection between his target and the Nazi.

In my case, given the brevity of his assignment, Wolfe must be content simply to assert that I am a crypto-conservative, suggest that I’m soft on slavery, and then drive his point home by falsely claiming that I say “many nice things” about an appalling right-wing marionette like Sarah Palin. Q.E.D.

Most readers, I trust, can see through Wolfe’s charade. It is disturbing, however, that the editors of the Washington Post would permit their distinguished publication to be party to such a clumsy fabrication.

By Steven E. Levingston  | October 28, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
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