March 17, 2006

The Anglosphere's best read columnist

The other day, I posited over on Samizdata, that Mark Steyn, whose columns appear in the United States (Chicago Sun-Times), Canada (Western Standard and MacLeans), Ireland, [until the Telegraph group's new owners, the Barclay brothers sacked him for supporting The Telegraph's former owner Lord Black] Britain, and Australia, is the best known columnist in the Anglosphere. As he himself says, a one-man content-provider.

Jonathan Pearce took exception to this and suggested the following names were more widely read: Christopher Hitchens; Andrew Sullivan; Charles Krauthammer; Larry Kudlow; Charles Kinsley; Robert Samuelson; Paul Krugman, etc.

I hadn't heard of most of the names and argued that these writers are known mainly to conservative American readers. (And I don't know who etc writes for.) Jonathan leapt back claiming Hitch and Sully are both more widely read than Steyn. Again, I think they are both specialised tastes and I doubt that many people outside the NE read Christopher Hitchens, as good a writer as he is. I also guessed that Andrew Sullivan's readership had fallen off since he became so obsessed with gay marriage.

Has anyone in Australia heard of Larry Kudlow? I doubt it. But they know Mark Steyn. Has anyone in Ireland heard of Charles Kingsley or Robert Samuelson? I doubt it. But they've heard of Mark Steyn, even if they can't stand him.

Any other nominations for best-known columnist in the Anglosphere?

Posted by Verity at March 17, 2006 07:31 AM
Comments

Steyn is exceptional. He has called almost everything right since 9/11, and among journalists seems uniquely able to comment intelligently on political developments in multiple countries. He is a contrarian in a business that's full of sheep, but is generally free of the peccadillos that characterize some of the other journalistic contrarians.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 17, 2006 08:42 AM

Johnathon
I disagree with some of his positions. For example, I'm deeply offended by whever he writes off the Europeans. That they must accept their dimmitude since they're sniveling appeasers berfet of any courage or morality. In that respect he strikes me as typically Anglospheric: he's patronizing that there could be even Europeans with principles. Perhaps he needs to write less and read more the non-English blogs and alternative press. Also, he's glossed over Anglospheric failings over the years I don't remember him sneering at the Brits for their jelly spined behaviour towards Al-hamedi (aka Captain claw) while the French moral failure during the 2004 summer heatwave becomes an endless loop of articles.
Steyn is quite talented but he's not infallible and he has his blind spots

xavier

Posted by: xavier at March 17, 2006 02:55 PM

...uniquely able to comment intelligently on political developments in multiple countries.

Not to mention entertainingly.

Posted by: Rand Simberg at March 17, 2006 03:54 PM

"...he's not infallible and he has his blind spots"

Stipulated.

In fact, stipulated as the universal human condition.

He is tough on the Europeans, yeah, but they don't give you much basis for hope. If they start acting differently, Steyn, like all of us, will be relieved to see it. Don't hold your breath.

Posted by: Lex at March 17, 2006 08:16 PM

Lex - the Danish prosecutor general has refused to file charges against the Jyllands-Posten for reasons of freedom of speech.

The Danes, through all this international five-month turmoil, have not given an inch. They have been wonderful.

Posted by: Verity at March 17, 2006 08:48 PM

for what its worth- i knew only mark steyn [from the above list] till about a year ago. I read his (needless to say, extremely entertaining) movie reviews in a newspaper called 'asian age' when i was living in mumbai. i now subscribe to the western standard to read him, primarily.

Posted by: kidneydoc at March 17, 2006 08:51 PM

Verity, agreed, the Danes are solid on free speech.

Still, it is a sad day when merely seeing a European country insisting on the bedrock principles of a free society -- no one gets to respond to political speech with violent threats and actual violence -- makes one feel gratitude and relief. That should be a no-brainer.

Posted by: Lex at March 17, 2006 09:23 PM

Two thumbs up for the indestructible Mark Steyn ;)

Posted by: Daniel at March 17, 2006 11:22 PM

Frankly speaking, I found out about Andrew Sullivan and Chris Hitchens before Steyn, but since then I only visit Steyn's online site regularly. He's far more entertaining than the other two. He also writes on far more topics, like movies and popular culture, which broadens his appeal.

I've stopped reading Andrew Sullivan for reasons others have already mentioned, and Hitchen's dour and often overly-combative tone can be quite a turn-off.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at March 18, 2006 01:50 AM

Steyn writes the best showbiz obits.

I see The Wobbly Guy in Singapore reads Steyn. I wonder if anyone in Singapore reads any of those listed by Johnathan Pearce on Samizdata (and listed by me above in my main post) like Larry Kudlow, for example. Does anyone in Oz read Charles Krauthammer? No offence to any of these fine gentlemen, but they are not really known outside their own sphere, which is N America.

My guess is, the only one with a highly international name is Andrew Sullivan, and he is turning into an obsessive (although when he leaves gay marriage out, he's still insightful and entertaining). Christopher Hitchens, who I like very much, is nevertheless - I'll wager - probably not really known outside Britain and the Northeastern US. Judging by the way everyone commenting above has focussed on Steyn, I can't see that anyone could argue against him being the most widely read columnist in the Anglosphere.

Posted by: Verity at March 18, 2006 07:02 AM

I'm sorry to say most people in Singapore have no idea who these gentlemen are. Almost needless to say, they have little to no idea of their liberal counterparts either, like MoDo, Krugman, Fisk and the rest of her ilk.

Maybe that's good. Maybe that's bad. I dunno. Singaporeans are famously politicially apathetic.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at March 18, 2006 07:13 AM

I'm glad no one's nominating Tom Friedman. He's almost unescapable in the US, but though I often agree with his points they're usually something obvious anyway. He writes like a bright eighth-grader condescending to explain something to his less-bright classmates. And his supporting evidence for his conclusions is always of the my-cabbie-told-me variety: pure anecdote.

Anyway, I do enjoy Steyn more than the others listed, though I don't always agree with him and can't take his style for too long. Where's our Orwell or our Twain?

Posted by: Shelby at March 18, 2006 11:05 AM

My liberal uncle on the west coast is familiar with Hitchens and has referenced speaking about him in his circle of aged companions. I know nothing of whether he is read in Australia or even Canada. Because he has not come up, I am going to conclude that P.J. O'Rourke is not widely read outside the US, though he travels widely and writes about many nations. Dalrymple is read in GB and NA, though I doubt he commands as regular a readership.

Steyn is quite hard on Europeans in general, though I don't think he is any more dismissive of them than he is of great swaths of the American and Canadian political culture. Perhaps that is what xavier is seeing -- that Steyn is dismissive of 60% of North American politics, but 80% of European.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 18, 2006 07:46 PM

Kex:
In contrast to you I do see hope. I guess because I don't always read the major paper in some of th European languages but the blogs and the regional paper in minority languages. I can tell you that ordinary citizens have had enough of the coddling of immigrants and they're fed up. The problem is that we read the official spin while the ordinary people are ignored.
Reading between the lines, I see a growing resentmnent that'll blow the whole multiculti dogma out the window
xavier

Posted by: xavier at March 18, 2006 09:50 PM

AVI - PJ O'Rourke is not, to the best of my knowledge, a newspaper columnist, and the question I have posed is: who is the most widely read columnist in the Anglosphere?

I agree that Theodore Dalrymple is outstanding, but in my opinion, he's too specialised to have garnered an avid readership outside the UK. He writes about the breakdown in English society and institutions. But I agree that he is a most engaging journalist.

Posted by: Verity at March 19, 2006 08:28 AM

What about John O'Sullivan? Published regularly in all the major Anglosphere countries, and has held major editorial positions in 3 of the 4 big ones.

Posted by: Karlmagnus at March 19, 2006 08:52 PM

Xavier,

I agree with you about Steyn and Europe. I think that he is too pessimistic about the prospects for European demographics and culture.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 19, 2006 09:41 PM

Jonathan - boy, I sure don't! Read his latest on the demographics of Japan?

Karlmagnus - I am somewhat disconcerted to admit I don't know who John O'Sullivan is! I'll google him, though ...

Posted by: Verity at March 20, 2006 09:05 AM

Xavier,

I'm glad that Europeans are getting fed up, it's about time. However, that doesn't change the facts - birth rates below replacement levels, birthrates skewed towards unassimilated populations, low productivity growth, and low economic growth. I can't see the Euro lasting another 20 years. I would be interested in your reasons for optimism.

Veritas,
This is my first time to your blog, so I'm not familiar w/ your reasons for relatively more optimism than Steyn, if you've posted on it, so I am curious as to your reasons, as well.

Posted by: cb at March 20, 2006 09:57 AM

cb - If, by Veritas, you're referring to me - I am Verity. (I only offer the correction because there may be a real Veritas out there who might be outraged at the mistake.) And this is not my blog. I have posting privileges here. That is all. The blog belongs to James Bennett, Michael Lotus and, I think, Rand.

I do not have "relatively more optimism" than Steyn. Not at all. I believe he has nailed it.

Posted by: Verity at March 20, 2006 10:31 AM

Sorry, I meant Jonathon.

Posted by: cb at March 20, 2006 11:15 AM

CB,

My relative optimism is based on nothing more than general contrariness and a sense that demographic predictions are usually wrong. IOW, trends change, or at least their rates change, and there are always unexpected events. Predicting one or five years out is one thing; predicting a generation or more into the future is much more difficult.

The Israeli demographic situation is a good example of what I mean. For many years there's been a great deal of speculation, all very sensible, about how Arab (Israeli Arab and occupied-territories Arab) populations were going to overwhelm the Jewish population within a few generations because the Arabs have many more children per capita. But several things happened that no one predicted and that changed everything: 1) the collapse of the USSR led to a large migration of Russian Jews to Israel, 2) the population of highly religious Israeli Jews who have big families is becoming significant and 3) Ariel Sharon's wall is physically separating a large part of the Arab population from the Jewish population. Also, IIRC the birth rate among Israeli Arabs has been declining. So by now the demographic projections must look quite different than they did in 1989.

I am speculating that comparable considerations hold for Europe, which after all is a much bigger and more populous region than is Israel. Right now we see only the obvious trends: shrinking growth rates among Christian populations and high growth rates among Muslim ones. What if Muslim growth rates slow? What if Europeans reform their economies, growth picks up and Christians start having bigger families? Steyn's demographic argument is a straight-line progression to the worst case. Maybe events will unfold that way, but worst cases don't usually materialize and I don't think it's the way to bet.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 20, 2006 12:19 PM

Points taken.

"demographic predictions are usually wrong"

I won't agree with that one. Sometimes, as in the case you cited, which is a small country, and therefore any changes will have disproportionate impact. In your example, immigration changed the projected population of a small state, significantly. Where is the immigration going to come from the significantly changes the population of Europe. It will have to be a lot of people, and something tells me Muslims won't be on the list of 'wanted' immigrants anymore. Personally, and this is just a guess, I wouldn't be surprised if young Europeans Christians start migrating to the US in a couple of decades, when the social burdens start falling disproportionately on them.

Birth rates change slowly. The facts are that Europe has been at below replacement level for some time, and even if birth rates rebound, it will be a while before they get back to replacement. I don't consider this a 'worst case' scenario, it's base case now, it could get worse, or it could get better, and I grant you the possibility that Europe reforms economically, productivity increases, and birth rates increase. But it's only that, a possibility, and I view it as unlikely, and you don't. We'll see in a few decades :)

Posted by: cb at March 21, 2006 10:06 AM

I was including O'Rourke as a magazine columnist -- I agree that's not the same now that you point it out.

There are also now reports that the Palestinian population figures have been inflated, and are being reevaluated. One has to wonder how accurate the European figures for different groups are as well.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 22, 2006 09:53 PM

AVI - I didn't make myself clear. I should have specified a regular columnist. Yes, PJ does do the occasionally very well paid turn, but he's too busy writing wildly successful books to be stuck with a regular column - I believe. I'm with you, though. A tremendous fan of both his writing and his thinking.

Posted by: Verity at March 23, 2006 08:23 AM

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