Is Jacob Heilbrunn a Plagiarist?

That is the question raised by Corey Robin in The Nation. Heilbrunn spent a great deal of time working on a little-noticed and less-regarded book about neoconservatives — so long that the project began with a positive tinge and ended as a hit job. Robin notes in his review a schizophrenic quality to Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right — how he claims variously that neoconservative intellectuals are driven by principle and then that they are driven by a hunger for electoral success, which is probably a result of its long gestation process and may, in fact, be more of a reflection of Heilbrunn’s own change of tune. But it is the revelation of the profound similarity in a few passage in Heilbrunn’s book, one of them to a piece by Robin himself, that makes Rubin’s review particularly notable:

 Here’s Heilbrunn discussing how supporters of the war in Iraq began to criticize the Iraqis once the war effort faltered:

David Brooks blamed the Iraqis for succumbing to innate “demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to compromise…even in the face of self-immolation.” Leon Wieseltier said much the same thing in The New Republic: “The security situation is at bottom the social-cultural situation. It seems increasingly clear to me that the blame for the violence in Iraq, and for its frenzied recoil from what Fouad Ajami hopefully called “the foreigner’s gift,” belongs to the Iraqis. Gifts must not only be given, they must also be received…. For three and a half years, the Iraqis have been free people. What have they done with their freedom?…After we invaded Iraq, Iraq invaded itself.”

Here’s a passage I wrote in an article about Hannah Arendt published in the January 4, 2007, issue of The London Review of Books:

According to the New York Times columnist David Brooks, after the fall of Saddam the Iraqis succumbed to their native ‘demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to compromise…even in the face of self-immolation’. Liberal hawks such as Leon Wieseltier believe much the same thing: “The security situation is at bottom the social-cultural situation. It seems increasingly clear to me that the blame for the violence in Iraq, and for its frenzied recoil from what Fouad Ajami hopefully called ‘the foreigner’s gift’, belongs to the Iraqis. Gifts must not be only given, they must also be received…. For three and a half years, the Iraqis have been a free people. What have they done with their freedom?… After we invaded Iraq, Iraq invaded itself.”

The identical order and nearly identical setup of the same quotes, with the same ellipses, caught my attention, especially since Heilbrunn cites only Wieseltier in his footnote. But I dismissed it as a single instance of carelessness. Then I found another….

Very damning. (Hat tip: RSS/TWS.)

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Is Jacob Heilbrunn a Plagiarist?

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