There are some occasions when the editorial “we” is almost viscerally inadequate. Writing about my friend Peter Collier—the prolific biographer and novelist, literary impresario, and tireless cultural warrior—is one such. Although he made it a full decade beyond the biblically sanctioned allotment of three score and ten, the announcement early last month that Peter had died, at the age of 80, still came as a shock.
It’s not that 80, no matter what the tabloids tell us, is the new 50 (though for some it seems to be the new 15). It isn’t. But Peter always seemed so vibrant, so vital. He was habitually solicitous about my health, beginning most conversations with a pressing question or two, but his palpable buoyancy led me to take his for granted. Often when we spoke by telephone he had just come from the squash court near his house in bucolic Nevada City, California. He was always busy with a new literary project or helping his lifelong friend David Horowitz (another perpetual motion machine) run the eponymous David Horowitz Freedom Center, with its myriad sub-enterprises. A friend we had in common gave me the news of Peter’s death in a codicil to an email about another subject. Much to my mortification, I hadn’t even known that he had been ill, but he had been, gravely, first from leukemia, then from the wretched chemotherapy that killed his cancer and then killed him.
I cannot fix the date or place of my first meeting with Peter. It must have been some time in the later 1980s, after he and David famously had their “second thoughts” about their youthful left-wingery and had at first drifted, and then galloped, to a robust pro-American conservatism. It was in 1985 that the duo published their notorious manifesto “Lefties for Reagan” in the Washington Post. To their comrades on the Left, it had the effect of Luther’s 95 Theses. Ronald Reagan? It was an announcement of apostasy, a declaration of war. The two were transformed overnight into personae non gratae, enemies of The Movement. Peter and I must have met around then, certainly before 1989, when Peter and David’s book Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties was first published, and, coincidentally, the year I began working full time at The New Criterion (I had been writing for the magazine since 1983).
But it was not until after Peter started Encounter Books, in 1998, that we became friends. In 2000, Encounter published my book The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America. Peter liked to describe The Long March as the “second-best book about the ’60s”; I said the same about Destructive Generation. Connoisseurs, I am told, maintain that no library containing one is complete without the other. Fortunately, Peter never wrote about what has happened to the academic study of art history, so when, in 2004, Encounter published The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, I had the field to myself.
I well remember the frisson of anticipation that coruscated across the conservative firmament when Encounter Books was announced. Although Encounter was at first based in San Francisco, the main launch party was in Washington, D.C. Tout le monde from the conservative side of the aisle was in attendance, along with some skeptical members of the press. “Serious Books for Serious Readers” was one early motto. The aptness of the tag may be inferred from a sampling of titles from those first years. Let’s leave aside that second-best book about the Sixties: Peter also published such classics as Mexifornia by Victor Davis Hanson, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding by Michael Novak, The Prince of the City (a biography of Rudy Giuliani) by Fred Siegel, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag by Armando Valladares, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept by Peter Wood, Heaven on Earth (a brilliant anatomy of socialism) by Joshua Muravchik, and Black Rednecks and White Liberals by the great Thomas Sowell. That last book started a precedent: it wound up at the scrappy upstart Encounter because none of the mainstream houses had the courage to publish it . . .
Read the rest at The New Criterion.