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Doug Ireland, Radical Journalist: 1946 – 2013
Posted on Oct 29, 2013
By Scott Tucker
Ireland was one of my trusted “translators” of European politics, most particularly of the politics and culture of France, where he had lived for 10 years. In his reports on the Russian gay movement, and especially of gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, I found him less reliable. Alexeyev’s egotism seemed plain from the start, but at least Ireland explicitly denounced Alexeyev when the latter began publishing anti-Semitic rants.
In an obituary, it is the custom to erase philosophical and political disagreements. That is a bad public habit, and I dissent. The atheism of recent years has not, to my mind, advanced far beyond the debates of the 18th century, and rarely matches the literary style of the radicals of the Enlightenment. It is less earnest and more trendy than the atheism of those two great friends, Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, who had joined the fight against the Nazis, and who wrote after World War II in the most individual style against all metaphysical escapism. Atheism was one bond of friendship between Doug Ireland and writer Christopher Hitchens, until they parted company in a public polemic over the war in Iraq. For myself, the philosophical horizon still surrounds us and still remains an open question.
Ireland was a lifelong enemy of religious totalitarianism, and he was often wicked and witty in public argument. The reason he linked my old website, Open Letter, to his blog was primarily because of our common admiration for Karl Kraus, the forensic analyst of Viennese newspapers (and of much else that passed for “high culture” after the First World War). Kraus wrote, “The Superman is a premature ideal, presupposing man.” He also wrote, “Family life is an intrusion into private life.” But even closer to our subject here, Kraus wrote, “Political journalism: what matters is not the size of the target but the distance.” (The translation from German is by Jonathan McVity, from “Dicta and Contradicta,” published by the University of Illinois Press in 2001.)
At his best, Ireland brought a philosophical and critical mind to the daily news. When he became increasingly confined by illness, he could not pretend to be a truly investigative journalist. The conditions of work for many writers will remain lonely, but the costs of political journalism are becoming punitive. Not least in the radioactive background of the surveillance state, and in the threats of career politicians against independent journalists. Ailing but still vitally at odds with the politics of war and empire, and defiant of the god William Blake once called Nobodaddy, Doug Ireland gave his best until the end.
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