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The New Republic's blistering Cornel West takedown: A "dramatic plummet from his perch as a world-class intellectual"

"You don't have to choose sides, but they damn sure did"


Scott Eric Kaufman
April 20, 2015 9:21PM (UTC)

The New Republic published a withering profile of Cornel West this weekend, comparing the philosopher to Mike Tyson, who at the heights of his boxing prowess was the most feared fighter on the planet, but who is now a celebrity shell of his former self.

Writer Michael Eric Dyson charts what he believes is West's "dramatic plummet from his perch as a world-class intellectual." He attacks his former mentor for betraying the black prophetic tradition, which is founded on the idea that charismatic black leaders use their pulpits -- however loosely defined -- to remind people of God's love for the oppressed and point out the difference between cherished American ideals and actual American society. Dyson also criticizes West for not having published anything of academic value in recent years, choosing instead to proffer attention-grabbing "assertions without sustained and compelling arguments."

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This is not to say that Dyson has nothing positive to say about West. Early in the profile, he recounts a conversation in which he and West discussed how to criticize President Barack Obama:

During a private conversation, West asked how I escaped being dubbed an “Obama hater” when I was just as critical of the president as he was. I shared my three-part formula for discussing Obama before black audiences: Start with love for the man and pride in his epic achievement; focus on the unprecedented acrimony he faces as the nation’s first black executive; and target his missteps and failures. No matter how vehemently I disagree with Obama, I respect him as a man wrestling with an incredibly difficult opportunity to shape history. West looked into my eyes, sighed, and said: “Well, I guess that’s the difference between me and you. I don’t respect the brother at all.”

Dyson employs the same approach with West -- praising his achievements and noting his struggles before targeting his personal and professional failures.

The profile drew mixed reviews on Twitter, with some saying Dyson's piece reeks of professional jealousy:

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Or maybe it's West who's the jealous one:

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It's important to remember, however:

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Because "The New Republic" has been here before:

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Of course, maybe it's just personal:

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Then there are those who believe this baseball is far too inside:

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Or, at the very least, should be:

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Cynicism, as always, is called for:

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Because, perhaps, this pox belongs on both their houses:

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Some, however, are just here for the show:

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Not that people are required to take sides:

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Then, of course, there are those who insist that everyone get a little perspective:

[embedtweet id="590113103309836288"]


Scott Eric Kaufman

Scott Eric Kaufman is an assistant editor at Salon. He taught at a university, but then thought better of it. Follow him at @scottekaufman or email him at skaufman@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Civil Rights Cornel West Michael Eric Dyson Philosophy Racism The New Republic

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