July 21, 2012

Alexander Cockburn, RIP

The leftwing journalist Alexander Cockburn has died of cancer, age 71. 

He came from an extended family that displayed, over quite a few generations, extraordinary talent and pluck at making a living by writing, both in the Cockburn wing and the Waugh wing.  For example, the Wikipedia entry for Henry Cockburn (1779-1854), judge and man of letters (friend of Sir Walter Scott, Henry Brougham, and Francis Jeffrey), notes:
The authors Alec Waugh and Evelyn Waugh, the journalist Claud CockburnClaudia Cockburn (wife of actor Michael Flanders) and author Sarah Caudwell were all descended from Cockburn, as are journalists Laura FlandersStephanie Flanders,Alexander Cockburn (husband of author Emma Tennant), Andrew Cockburn(husband of journalist Leslie Cockburn) and Patrick Cockburn (son-in-law of BishopHugh Montefiore) and actress Olivia Wilde (former wife of Tao Ruspoli).

(Here's Claud Cockburn's superb essay about his first cousin Evelyn Waugh.)

As an American journalist, it seems almost hopeless trying to compete with that kind of nature and nurture.

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

RIP.


Those Cockburns always were a bit cheeky with us colonials: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_George_Cockburn,_10th_Baronet

The most important of Cockburn's actions was the capture and burning of Washington on 24 August 1814 as an advisor to Major General Robert Ross.[

Anonymous said...

If it's any consolation, you and your children ought to be most thankful during schooling to have the surname Sailer.

Anonymous said...

"Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done."


Even in death he remains expert at tweaking Snitchens who was in my view always a pretended to Cockburn's throne of cynical, erudite, upper-class British contrarianism.

Hitchens became more famous as he ingratiated himself with the cretins in power but Cockburn remained the better writer and the better man.


Hitchens knew that nobody "important" would ever debase themselves by referencing Cockburn in the New York Times or on Charlie Rose but I imagine it bothered him that Cockburn had him nailed from the beginning and never stopped pounding on him. Maybe his friends Wolfowitz and Chalabi didn't care but Christopher never stopped reading Cockburn.


To paraphrase something written about another Hitchens friend turned disdainful critic:

[Cockburn] mirrors his idealistic past as well as sordid present, an obstinate reminder that he once had principles but no longer does, that he sold out but [Cockburn] didn't. Hating to be reminded, he keeps trying to shatter the glass. Cockburn's the demon from the past that, after recantation, no amount of incantation can exorcise.

Norville Rogers said...

He wrote two great columns for The Nation after the respective Republican/Dem party conventions in 2000. They don't make 'em like that any more

Norville Rogers said...

This plaintive letter-to-the-editor by USDA administrator Thomas J. Billy would make for a fitting epitaph. I can't find the link to the original column he references but remember it well (a paleoliberal 4th of July piece blasting messianic, thuggish food-safety bureaucrats)

dearieme said...

I've got a copy of "Memorials of His Time" by Henry Cockburn (i.e. Lord Cockburn). He writes about the early 1800s in Scotland: it's an excellent read for anyone with a bit of interest in history, or mankind, with the fascination you'd expect when a highly intelligent and reflective man sets out his experiences - all you have to bear in mind is the occasional Scottish, rather than English, usage. So when he says he was sent to a public school, he means that in the Scottish sense (= the American sense) not the English sense, he refers to his University as College and its boss as Principal, not Vice Chancellor.

No doubt all the regular readers of Mr iSteve are already aware that the name is pronounced Coeburn.

Anonymous said...

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/david-horowitz/alex-cockburn-a-bitter-life-2/

This is what he deserves.

Ali said...

Stephanie Flanders is the BBC's economics editor and wrote speeches for Larry Summers in the 90s.

Anonymous said...

A.C. was possibly the modern master of the kneecap obit so it was too bad we were subjected to the press mavens quoting him back at himself yesterday... He would've done a better job of it

David L. said...

You'd think with a surname like that he'd be destined to write for the lefties, given their support of gay rights.

Anonymous said...

From the Claud Cockburn essay - Waugh to the writer upon learning of his earnest interest in Central European politics: "You talk as though all that were quite real to you."

Classic Waughvian put down of foreign nig-noggery.

Gilbert Pinfold.

kudzu bob said...

The most important of Cockburn's actions was the capture and burning of Washington on 24 August 1814 as an advisor to Major General Robert Ross.

Well, at least he tried to help us.

michael lamb said...

His obituary of Hitchens made me wish I read more of him

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/16/farewell-to-c-h/

deconstructingleftism said...

Alexander Cockburn, BIH

He was a communist, and if there is anything other than oblivion and a just God, he will be judged for that.

wwwww said...

cockburn was loyal to his father who was loyal to stalin.always explained away the horrors of communism

Prof. Woland said...

Cockburn was fiercely independent in spite of his Maoist leanings. His protégé, Ken Silverstein, was the first Journalist to really go after the SPLC in a significant way. He wrote the book The Church of Morris Dees. Leftist magazines, like the Nation which he wrote for, were losing out on the limited pool of left wing political patronage money to their more aggressive rivals like the SPLC.

Kylie said...

"No doubt all the regular readers of Mr iSteve are already aware that the name is pronounced Coeburn."

Really? I had no idea. I thought it was pronounced "Fanshaw".

kaganovitch said...

Anonymous wrote "Even in death he remains expert at tweaking Snitchens who was in my view always a pretended to Cockburn's throne of cynical, erudite, upper-class British contrarianism"

Whether Cockburn was the better writer is a matter of opinion(I would sharply disagree),but as regards erudition he wasn't in Hitchens league.

sunbeam said...

Are you sure you are rationally evaluating this whole thing?

I mean it seems to me that you have some kind of implicit assumption that a writer having famous relatives who were famous writers rubs off off on that particular writer.

It's probably a great marketing tool. Quite a few cynics (I am one) think that being connected to the "establishment" is what determines whether you will see print, in journalism anyway.

In that paragraph "establishment" means the usual suspects when it comes to print media, the big city papers, the Times Conglomerate, AP, UP etc.

It's even worse if you go through the NY book houses if you want to publish a book.

And as far as writing talent goes? I'm an idea man, for the most part.

If I want written words I love for their own sake, fiction is my go to place. Most of the time I get a big sleepy if someone gets too cute with the language writing non-fiction. There are exceptions, if they can keep it short.

The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance has sparkling prose that always puts a smile on my face. Lloyd Alexander character of Eilonwy just makes me fall in love with her when I read her dialogue.

As far as brits go, Hitchens, Dawkins, Cockburn, a whole lot of others don't impress me too much. George Monbiot is my personal go to guy for an example of a brit dumbass that just shouldn't have the job he has. He's kind of like David Brooks for them.

I have an inherent assumption that I know the truth when I hear it. I don't seek these guys out. I'll read their stuff, but it's not like I'm impressed.

Of course I'm not an anglophile, so your mileage may vary.

I keep reading you, though I disagree on maybe three quarters of what you write. So you got something. And I can tell you your written output is abnormal in this day and age. I'm sure it would take longer if you were publishing in a paper and not a blog, but you know.

Anonymous said...

So another pansy, leftist, half-Communist Englishman (or this one Irish?) bites the dust.

All these characters starting with Shaw have been cheerleaders have England's decline and fall. They've been AWOL in the fight to preserve Western Civilization when they weren't on the other side.

Anonymous said...

"If it's any consolation, you and your children ought to be most thankful during schooling to have the surname Sailer."

Andrew and Leslie Cockburn's daughter Olivia just made up her own last name-- Wilde-- and has done pretty well for herself.

Of course it helps that she looks like this: http://mymoviewallpapers.com/wallpapers2/olivia-wilde-wallpaper-03-1600.jpg

Glossy said...

There is a longish BBC interview with Evelyn Waugh on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

Anybody here know what happened to Dennis Mangan and his blog? I'm half expecting Steve to disappear next.

Luke Lea said...

All I remember is the diehard apologist for Marxism. Am I being unfair?

anony-mouse said...

1/ According to his wikipedia page, Cockburn had 1 child.

One way to compete with any family with an upside-down generational pyramid is to simply have kids. Then wait.

Who's in the current living generation of Waughs?

2/ 'but Christopher never stopped reading Cockburn'.

And I'm sure Hitchens' idol Geroge Orwell never stopped reading Claud Cockburn, else he couldn't have accurately described the dedicated Stalinist in Homage to Catalonia.

Anonymous said...

"All I remember is the diehard apologist for Marxism. Am I being unfair?"

There may have been more to him than that, I suppose there must have been, but no, not unfair.

Out here on the paleo-right fringes there are many points of contact with the radical left.

Tom said...

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/david-horowitz/alex-cockburn-a-bitter-life-2/
This is what he deserves.


Making the right enemies is a sure sign of a life well led.

Charlotte said...

Thank you for Claude's essay. It helps me understand how Waugh could see America in the microcosm of a pet cemetary (The Loved One).

Anonymous said...

Cockburn was hard for me to pin down ideologically. I know he wrote sometimes for the Nation, bashed Hitchens when he pushed for the Iraq war. My gut always was that he was sort of out of place on the contemporary US left (amongst Zirin, Van Dan Huevel, Tim Wise and the like).

Anonymous said...

why does it say I need to be invited to read Managan's blog? and how do i get that?

Anonymous said...

The least cool of these cockburn relatives: Laura Flanders. Assuming this is the Flanders who does stuff on Grit.tv. She is really unimpressive.

Anonymous said...

Drowning in this pool of Anglophilia. I am suspicious of all our special-relationship countries.

Anonymous said...

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/1165

Another Alexander.

sunbeam said...

Wow, I got curious about that name "Evelyn Waugh," since it was mentioned so much.

I had heard the name, but didn't have the slightest notion of what the name was known for.

Brideshead Revisited? Really? That thing PBS shows every so often?

I was also totally surprised Evelyn Waugh wasn't a chick. I figured the name to go with someone like Virginia Woolf (who I only know about because Elizabeth Taylor ate up some scenery playing her).

It's a big world, which is good, because it gives us all something to be interested in.

But for me... the English writers who appeal are people like Defoe, Dickens, Aldous Huxley, Pratchett, Tolkien, Lewis, Kipling. George Eliot is an excellent author, and about as close an example of an author I like and will reread as I can get to Waugh.

What exactly is the fascination with English aristocrats? Reading about Evelyn Waugh's life in wikipedia, I found myself kind of laughing at him. I also read about the fellow who broke up his marriage to She-Evelyn, John Heygate. His life seemed particularly pathetic.

I mean if your platonic ideal of an english gentleman is someone like Sir Richard Francis Burton, then you are presented with people like this? It just seems to me that the nature part is breaking down somehow over the years.

I mean check out Max Mosely's sex video. The whole nine yards, prostitutes, s&m, nazi's.

And he comes across like the Insane Clown Posse Does Dusseldorf.

To make a long story short, these guys don't have anything I want.

Except their money.

Anonymous said...

If his last name had been Cockbernstein, the isteve take on him might be quite different.

Anonymous said...

Never mind Coeburn just think Coburn as in James Coburn.

ben tillman said...

If it's any consolation, you and your children ought to be most thankful during schooling to have the surname Sailer.

Is that why it's pronounced "Coburn"?

International Jew said...

Noticing how popular Mr Cockburn is with this crowd I'm reminded that the political spectrum is really more of a ring on which what are ordinarily thought of as far right and far left in fact rest right next to each other.

Anonymous said...

Petrolia, CA will never see his like again.

Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that Cockburn openly rooted for the Soviets to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot. He was a douchebag (of the dead, only the truth!)

Harry Baldwin said...

Cockburn openly rooted for the Soviets to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot.

In retrospect, I too wish the Soviets had turned Afghanistan into a parking lot.

Anonymous said...

"It should be pointed out that Cockburn openly rooted for the Soviets to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot. He was a douchebag (of the dead, only the truth!)"

You say that like it's a bad thing...

Anonymous said...

"It should be pointed out that Cockburn openly rooted for the Soviets to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot. He was a douchebag (of the dead, only the truth!)"

Would have saved us a lot of effort, no?

kudzu bob said...

It should be pointed out that Cockburn openly rooted for the Soviets to turn Afghanistan into a parking lot.

Explain to me how this would have been a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

He courted the label ‘contrarian,’ ” Mr. Cockburn said of Mr. Hitchens, “but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair.”

Matra said...

Noticing how popular Mr Cockburn is with this crowd I'm reminded that the political spectrum is really more of a ring on which what are ordinarily thought of as far right and far left in fact rest right next to each other.

I think that's only relevant for foreign policy.

Cockburn's view of global warming was pretty much the same as that of mainstream conservatives. If I'm not mistaken he was not on board with the pro-choice movement's talking points. He also went after the feds on Waco and Ruby Ridge. Unlike virtually the entire left today Cockburn was no partisan shill and he was willing to challenge some left wing narratives. That may explain the respect he got from paleocons.

Anonymous said...

"No doubt all the regular readers of Mr iSteve are already aware that the name is pronounced Coeburn."

With apologies to Voltaire: if the Coeburn pronunciation did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Co...burn

darbyk said...

I figured it was coe-burn because of Bruce "Wonderin' Where the Lions Are" Cockburn.

Eric said...

Whether Cockburn was the better writer is a matter of opinion(I would sharply disagree),but as regards erudition he wasn't in Hitchens league.

Agreed. I never read anything by Cockburn that made me think "I don't agree with what he's saying, but look at that beautiful sentence!"

Cockburn never impressed me with either his writing or his logic. He was more like a slightly less intelligent version of Noam Chomsky - he could work the rubes well enough to make a living, but nobody will remember him in a generation.

Anonymous said...

"I figured it was coe-burn because of Bruce "Wonderin' Where the Lions Are" Cockburn."

Another hard leftist, interestingly enough. "If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die..."

Anonymous said...

"Alexander Cockburn: The Last Stalinist, an Enemy of Freedom, and a low-level Anti-Semite. May He Not Rest in Peace"

http://pjmedia.com/ronradosh/2012/07/23/alexander-cockburn-the-last-stalinist-an-enemy-of-freedom-and-a-low-level-anti-semite-may-he-not-rest-in-peace/

Eric said...

"Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair."

Which is just wrong. For God's sake, Hitchens went after Mother Thresa, who was at the time the closest thing we had to a living saint in popular culture.

Anonymous said...

"Which is just wrong. For God's sake, Hitchens went after Mother Thresa, who was at the time the closest thing we had to a living saint in popular culture."

Yeah, going after a Catholic Saint, just killed him with Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and all the whole East Coast Establishment. I heard Hitchens couldn't show his face on the Upper West side after that one. Verily, he spoke truth to power.

Example one, Hitchens long support of the Palestinians and attacks on Israel. Very Contrarian.

Eric said...

Yeah, going after a Catholic Saint, just killed him with Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and all the whole East Coast Establishment. I heard Hitchens couldn't show his face on the Upper West side after that one. Verily, he spoke truth to power.

Her popularity extended far beyond the Catholic church. Even people who are completely non-religious used her as the exemplar of selfless charity in casual conversation. Before Hitchens nobody had an unkind word to say about her.

FredR said...

Here is Unz on Cockburn: http://www.ronunz.org/2012/07/24/unz-on-raceiq-rejecting-the-ostrich-response/

"Finally, I must note the tragic loss which we all suffered in the passing of Alexander Cockburn, one of America’s most courageous and honest journalists, as well as co-editor of the Counterpunch webzine. Many were the mornings I’d read endless amounts of absurd, dishonest nonsense in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, only to discover a far more plausible and accurate discussion of world events on Counterpunch’s bright pages. Alex was very decidedly a man of the Left, indeed of the second generation, given that his father Claud had been one of the leading Communist journalists of the 1930s. But the severe compression of the allowed ideological landscape in American journalism had also established him as a port in the storm for leading conservative writers as well. A few years ago, I happened to be glancing through old issues of Buckley’s National Review from the 1980s and was stunned to notice how many of those authors, having been purged by Conservativism, Inc., now used Counterpunch as the primary distributor of their current writings. As I told Alex at the time, perhaps he was actually the true heir of William Buckley, Jr."

I suppose he's thinking of Paul Craig Roberts, but I'm not sure who else.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, I had never heard of this guy before he died.

If you know of more contrarian erudite types, please let us not-so-well-read folks know about them while they're still writing about current events.