Pioneer blogger Andrew Sullivan is celebrating 10 years of blogging and he’s posting “toast or roast” messages from readers and other bloggers. In a way, this is ridiculously self-regarding. Who throws their own birthday party?
But it is completely consistent with Sullivan’s method. His entire blogging career has been about charting American and global political change through his own story: his s-xuality, his marriage, his HIV status, his struggles with his Catholic faith, his editorship of The New Republic, his relationship with American conservatism. It’s all been a colossal exercise in autobiography.
Call this narcissism, if you like, but Sullivan is too wracked with doubt about his own views for that description to really fit. And besides, narcissism is forgivable in others if their pet subject is interesting enough and Sullivan meets that standard easily.
I didn’t know what a blog was before I stumbled on Sullivan’s Daily Dish in 2001, yet it is no exaggeration to say that this discovery changed my life.
I became something of a blogging enthusiast within the Canberra intelligence community, where I worked. And when, in 2007, then-Lowy Institute director Allan Gyngell decided that the institute ought to have a blog, my name came up, and here I am today.
The Interpreter is a very different beast to Sullivan’s Daily Dish, but my sense of what a blog should be is deeply informed by Sullivan’s blogging philosophy. A blog ought not to be just another platform for op-ed style writing. The opinion writer’s tone is declaratory, but blogging (when it’s done right) is conversational.
The Daily Dish continues to fascinate because it is so strong on US politics, culture and life. But for foreign policy wonks, it can be unreliable and frustrating. Despite Sullivan’s slow and steady disillusionment with George W Bush, the Dish continues to reflect that Administration’s pre-occupations with the Middle East and terrorism. The transformation of Asia and the rise of China — what Richard McGregor calls “a global event without parallel … a genuine mega-trend, a phenomenon with the ability to remake the world economy” — is largely ignored.
Now, we all write what we know, and there’s no shortage of good reading on China’s rise. But it’s hard to believe that, had the Daily Dish been around in the 1950s, it would have had so little to say about the rise of Soviet Russia (or, in the ’70s, the rise of Japan). It would be disturbing to think that Sullivan’s biases in this regard reflect those of the Washington intelligentsia.
I met Andrew in Washington early last year, and we discussed at length our mutual admiration of the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. It was a thrill to meet him and I have many pleasant memories of the evening, though I regret that, after hours of conversation, I completely forgot my professional duty and failed to ask Andrew for an interview. I also remember that mix of self-absorption and self-doubt emerging just as we were saying our goodbyes, when he asked me if he was any different to what I had expected. He wasn’t.
Sam Roggeveen is editor of The Interpreter, the blog of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, where this piece was originally published.