Sunday, July 17, 2005

Where have you gone, Steven Den Beste? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

I miss Steven Den Beste.

No, I never met him; and yes, I know he's not returning to political blogging (he still blogs on anime here).

He's very ill; and, what's more, even if he weren't, I don't get the sense that he's the type who would respond to pleadings from his audience. He's no Andrew Sullivan, playing the "Hello I must be going" game. He's the type who makes up his mind and that's it. No looking back. At least that's what I imagine.

But I still miss him, and hope he's doing well. I think, when I reflect on it, that he was my favorite blogger. There was nothing easy about him; no cheap shots, no funny stuff. He didn't pander, and he was the hardest worker imaginable, churning out reams of lucid prose on a daily basis. I never understood how there were enough hours in a day for him to write as much as he did, even if he was working round the clock. And of course I didn't know at the time that it was done at enormous physical cost to him because he was suffering from a progressive degenerative illness. When he quit blogging about a year ago in July, 2004, he cited both the illness and a massive psychological burnout that seems to have come from the fact that almost all the mail he got--and he got a lot of it--was negative.

I felt guilty, having never written him an e-mail myself that let him know how much I admired and appreciated his work. I wrote one afterwards, but he never replied, nor did I expect him to. I like to think it was because he was inundated with similar missives.

Den Beste had never impressed me as being the type to care whether people appreciated him or not, though. In fact, Bill Whittle famously called him the "Krell Mind Machine"--and those of you who read the book The Forbidden Planet in your youth and loved it (as I did), or saw the movie, will understand what Whittle was getting at. But I suppose even the most cerebral of us--and Steven Den Beste was nothing if not cerebral--have feelings, too (something that should be glaringly obvious, but is sometimes clear only in retrospect).

To those of you who got into reading blogs after Den Beste had retired and who don't know what I'm talking about --I urge you to visit his archived writings. Here's a guide. Of course, it's not the same as reading his analyses at the time he wrote them. For example, during the buildup to the Iraq war, when the US was presenting its case (interminably, it seemed) to the balky UN, I recall that it was Den Beste who had the best (yes, puns are irresistible) writings on the situation. He was the one I relied on.

You had to be patient to stick with Den Beste--he wasn't what you'd call a quick read. Step by laborious step, he'd take the reader through a beautifully and logically reasoned argument or explanation, and he didn't really care how long it took. He respected his readers and figured they were up to the task--and for him, they were. He sometimes dealt with minutiae and technical things (after all, he'd been an engineer), and some of his posts were arcane. If on a certain day he wanted to write about something obscure and tech-y, or anime--well then, that's what he wrote about that day (and that's the day I might take a break from his blog). But most of the time he worked large, weaving together examples from disparate sources in new and unexpected--and, above all, deep--ways, bringing the sharp order of his mind to the chaos of politics and world events.

As Den Beste himself put it (and he put it best) in this essay about the process by which he wrote his articles, he used an "internal mechanism" which was especially "good at...finding non-obvious relationships." That was indeed his specialty. In the same essay, he says: I write about something because I'm compelled to, because it's often the case that if I don't, then I can't get it out of my head. Putting my thoughts into print relieves an internal pressure which also isn't easily described.

That came across in his essays. He seemed to be a pressure cooker of some sort--throw in a bunch of data, seal the top, add heat, and the pressure would build until--voila!--out came a tasty feast, in his case an intellectual one, cooked in far less time than conventional pots and normal pressure could ever accomplish. It's not surprising he burnt out. Even if he hadn't had an illness, I can't imagine anyone keeping up that sort of pace.

Den Beste was a master of the long essay form and a blog pioneer, beginning in early 2001, when most of us had never even heard the word "blog." I'm a practitioner of the medium-to- longish essay myself, and I tip my proverbial hat to Den Beste for setting the bar very very high.


At 7:17 PM, July 17, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Of course I've noted your mentions of his work, but I guess I should actually read some of it, too.

IMO, a recommendation from you is not to be taken lightly.

Cute Simon & Garfunkel reference, BTW...

At 8:50 PM, July 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steven Den Beste never put up a comment section his blog. He would have received much positive reinforcement had he done so. I personally hesitate to send private e-mails to bloggers. It seems somewhat like a violation of privacy unless the reason is of overwhelming importance.

Den Beste is a brilliant man. He regular posts are missed. May the God that he rejects bless and guide him.

At 9:38 PM, July 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Thomson

Well said, same reason I never contacted Den Beste. And, yes, he is missed.

Luther McLeod

At 10:09 PM, July 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, he did have a comments section, but he had to shut it down because it was becoming a drag (as, eventually, the blog itself would).

At 10:53 PM, July 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Their is no doubt about it, Steven Den Beste had the most brilliant and insightful things to say, his arguments were unassailable. I will tell you that I am not easily impressed when it comes to the articulation of ones perspectives and viewpoints, but quite frankly Steven uniquely amazed and impressed me. I would say I view Steven Den Beste's intellect as unique and impressive as Mark Steyn's dead on sarcasm.

Joseph Samuel Friedman

At 1:01 AM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have anything more to add, but I couldn't just read it and pass by. I too, miss Steven Den Beste. I, too, feel the same and think the same and have the same regrets.

At 3:07 AM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JJ here,

SDB posts irregularly in the comments on Bill Quick's site
He has an interesting take today in relation to the post on the Iraq/Iran meetings. It is down a bit and titled:
I'm Done With Him - The New Axis of Evil...Iraq Premier Visits Iran to Build Ties - New York Times

Always posts excellent observtions with a welcome logic and calm reassurance. I've looked for his signature on The Belmont Club, but I've never seen him comment, but there are so many commenters there that I may have missed him.

Clueless was truly a great read.

At 5:03 AM, July 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JJ: Yikes! I'd forgotten just how hilariously excitable Bill Quick is. He makes Andrew Sullivan seem levelheaded.

It's a funny place for Den Beste to be commenting, but perhaps it's part of keeping a low profile.

At 10:37 PM, July 18, 2005, Blogger Troy Stephens said...

Steven is a truly first-rate thinker and writer. I've learned so much from him -- not only about the impressive array topics in which he is expert, but also more broadly about how to think and reason. I miss him too, and often wish I could witness his incisive thinking applied to some recent current event or topic. It's a tragedy that his gift has come at such a great personal cost to him; I truly wish there was something we could do to help alleviate his condition or at least ease his pain. He's given us so much.

Among the many gems of writing he's produced, one of my favorites has been the essay wherein he concludes 'I am a "Conservative" because I am a liberal', which I've earmarked to reference in telling my own story (hopefully I'll get moving on that sometime soon!) because it so clearly points out the ironically antiliberal aspects of contemporary "liberal" thinking that so trouble me. His point therein about "the right to scandalize the neighbors" hits the nail right on the head for me. "Read the whole thing", as they say. (Always a worthwhile suggestion regarding a Den Beste essay.) With the exception that I at least tentatively identify as a libertarian, he says it exactly as I feel it. Brilliant stuff.

At 4:26 PM, February 01, 2007, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It was a very weird dichotomy in a way.

Den Beste seems to be a very private person. He values his privacy. And yet something motivated him to write publicly.

He honestly didn't want to deal with "public opinion". That was not the kind of person he was. And he would be required to deal with the public so to speak, with the emails and the comments section.

I honestly don't know why he didn't shut down his email address and use another one.


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