2004 in review (II): Playing Hookie

In order to deal with the dearth of "hard" news that usually comes at the end of the year, columnists and magazines come up with gimmicks to fill space and keep readers interested. Time has the person of the year, Jeff Jacoby collects a "liberal hate speech" folder and shares the results with readers (favorite bit from this year's column: "The St. Petersburg, Fla., Democratic Club took out an ad calling for the death of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 'Then there's Rumsfeld who said of Iraq, "We have our good days and our bad days . . . We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say, "This is one of our bad days," and pull the trigger.'").

And now relatively new New York Times columnist David Brooks has the Hookie Awards. The award is named for the "great public intellectual" and philosopher Sidney Hook, who was simultaneously a social democrat and a fierce anti-Communist. Unlike recipients of the Sidney Hook Memorial Award, Hookie winners don't receive a cash prize. Then again, they do gain valuable real estate on the Times editorial page for essays that were published mostly in small circulation journals of opinion.

Of course, his list is fraught with ghosts. In the first column, Brooks awarded Hookies to a City Journal article by Theodore Dalrymple (a.k.a. Anthony Daniels) about the breakdown of Islam, an overrated piece in The Wilson Quarterly about the pragmatic progress of the early Sixties, and a Tech Central Station number about the common roots of Christian communities and academic communities. In the second round of Hookies, Brooks gave the thumbs up to Christopher Caldwell's Weekly Standard cover on the Netherlands and a piece in the London Review of Books about the revolutionary (secular) faith of Trotsky.

The Hookies have attracted some criticism. Subbing for a vacationing Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat praised Brooks' attempt to "single-handedly bring idea-driven discourse to the (ahem) not-terribly-idea-driven opinion pages of the New York Times" but then inveighed against the choice of the Tech Central column, by William Stuntz:

The fact that universities were founded as schools of theology is telling, yes -- telling of how far universities have risen or fallen (depending on your point of view) from the days when they did have a lot in common with religious communities. Claiming that elite colleges' Christian past somehow links them to today's evangelicals is at best appealing sophistry, and it's typical of Stuntz's argument, which relies on superficial similarities -- people reading texts and caring about ideas -- that could apply equally well to any pair of mismatched intellectual groups, from Pakistani madrassas to Communist cells to suburban book clubs.

For my money, Brooks' choice to exclude essays published in newspapers, and especially his own paper's Sunday magazine, caused him to overlook what could have been last year's most important essay. I'll identify the essay, and explain why I think it so important, later this week.

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