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Nat Hentoff, Rest in Peace

 

Nat Hentoff has died. As the New York Times reports,

“Nat Hentoff, the author, journalist, jazz critic and civil libertarian who called himself a troublemaker and proved it with a shelf of books and a mountain of essays on free speech, wayward politics, elegant riffs and the sweet harmonies of the Constitution, died on Saturday.”

He came to my campus while I was a college student and was shrieked at by a number of students, but he stood his ground even when a large rugby playing woman marched onto the stage and seized a piece of chalk to inscribe her outrage on the chalk board behind him. After she left, too enraged to even speak, Nat Hentoff continued peaceably with his talk on the injustice of abortion and his opposition to laws in its favor.

I worked for a time at the Human Life Review, which would frequently reprint Hentoff’s columns from The Village Voice in its Appendices section. Hentoff worked with the Review to put together a collection of his syndicated columns that appeared in the journal from 1984 to 2005, Insisting on Life. And they awarded him the “Great Defender of Life” award in 2005. He was an unlikely friend of John Cardinal O’Connor, the archbishop of New York, who quipped that he did not want to convert Hentoff, since a atheist pro-life Jew was too valuable a hook to get people to look at pro-life arguments.

May he rest in peace.

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Members have made 18 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Caryn Member

    May his family be comforted and his memory a blessing.

    • #1
    • January 8, 2017 at 5:32 am
  2. Profile photo of CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    Amen.

    • #2
    • January 8, 2017 at 5:33 am
  3. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    It’s a sad day, but I’m glad he hung around as long as he did. Many times over the past couple of decades when I’d bemoan the fact that there are no more liberals, I’d name Nat Hentoff as an exception.

    Nat’s son Nick follows somewhat in his father’s footsteps. I don’t know whether he does on the abortion issue. I follow him on Twitter. Trigger warning: He does not like Donald Trump.

    • #3
    • January 8, 2017 at 5:41 am
  4. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    I saw that. He kept active and lasted into his 90’s. That is not such a bad thing.

    • #4
    • January 8, 2017 at 5:46 am
  5. Profile photo of Mark Member

    Always his own man. Always worth reading.

    • #5
    • January 8, 2017 at 6:34 am
  6. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    I saw him talk in the early 1990s on free speech. As much as I liked it, it is my true regret that I didn’t know nearly enough about music at the time. Allmusic lists him as having written the liner notes to such albums as “The Genius of Ray Charles,” “Kind of Blue,” “Sketches of Spain,” and “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” I don’t mean to downplay his political work, but he must have been a treasure trove on jazz, folk and blues.

    It’s always good for someone to have more facets than politics, because life is more than politics.

    [Edit: the liner notes for “Kind of Blue” were for the 1997 re-release. The others were all for the original albums. Also the original liner notes for “Giant Steps.”]

    • #6
    • January 8, 2017 at 6:56 am
  7. Profile photo of Hoyacon Member

    Sad, sad, sad. But he had a good run.

    For jazz lovers, would recommend Nat’s recounting of his 60 years writing on the art, At the Jazz Band Ball.

    • #7
    • January 8, 2017 at 8:37 am
  8. Profile photo of tigerlily Member

    RIP.

    • #8
    • January 8, 2017 at 8:53 am
  9. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Member

    Amen. May his name be for a blessing! Thanks, MT!

    • #9
    • January 8, 2017 at 9:11 am
  10. Profile photo of Western Chauvinist Member

    Thanks for the post, Mama. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about him until reading his obituary, but I was familiar with his name. That’s because I would read one of his articles somewhere and immediately look back at the byline, thinking, “who wrote this?!

    I’m glad he had such a full and rich life. May he rest in peace.

    • #10
    • January 8, 2017 at 9:46 am
  11. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    As early as 1992, he wrote Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee. I was only beginning to notice PC then, and I thought it would blow over and we’d all laugh about it in 6 months. He saw it more clearly. A remarkable man.

    • #11
    • January 8, 2017 at 10:02 am
  12. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Member

    He and Andrew are probably engaged in lively conversation as Father Abraham looks on…Bless and rest them both!

    • #12
    • January 8, 2017 at 10:19 am
  13. Profile photo of Keith SF Member

    I’ve always been more familiar with his music writing, but have enjoyed reading his political work as well. I think he occupies that same space Christopher Hitchens and Camile Paglia do… a self identified Liberal who became more and more out of step with his cohort, able to elicit both anger and admiration on the left and the right.

    .

    • #13
    • January 8, 2017 at 10:31 pm
  14. Profile photo of Ontheleftcoast Member

    He was a great First Amendment fundamentalist. I once thought hate crime and hate speech laws might be a good thing; after all, there is antisemitism.

    Then I read Nat Hentoff.

    • #14
    • January 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm
  15. Profile photo of Manny Member

    I heard Hentoff on the radio several times over my life. He was truly a gentleman and a good soul. I don’t know if atheists can go to heaven, but may God take his whole heart into account.

    • #15
    • January 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm
  16. Profile photo of harrisventures Thatcher

    I don’t know when I first read an article by Nat Hentoff, but I know that I eventually came to realize that any column with his byline would be informative and well reasoned. I almost always learned something when I read his work.

    He will be missed…

    • #16
    • January 9, 2017 at 7:12 pm
  17. Profile photo of Pugshot Member

    RightAngles
    As early as 1992, he wrote Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee. I was only beginning to notice PC then, and I thought it would blow over and we’d all laugh about it in 6 months. He saw it more clearly. A remarkable man.

    Ontheleftcoast
    He was a great First Amendment fundamentalist. I once thought hate crime and hate speech laws might be a good thing; after all, there is antisemitism.
    Then I read Nat Hentoff.

    Yes and yes. I was aware of Nat Henthoff by reputation long before I read something by him. This was in the pre-internet days and if you didn’t subscribe to The Village Voice, you didn’t have ready access to his writings. Then I read “Free Speech for Me – But Not for Thee” and I was an instant fan. Here was someone of the Left who understood the true importance of free speech and was not afraid to lecture his own side on the necessity of defending everyone’s right to exercise it. What a true mensch! We need him now more than ever, and we can honor his memory by recommitting ourselves to the fight to defend freedom of speech from all those -across the entire political spectrum – who would seek to silence debate, shout down or intimidate their opponents, or insist that some speech is “beyond the pale” and must be forbidden.

    • #17
    • January 10, 2017 at 5:56 am
  18. Profile photo of CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    FYI, the Human Life Review has a memorial page up for Hentoff, and is offering a free download until January 17 of his essays that make up the book Insisting on Life.

    • #18
    • January 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm