Edward Snowden retweeted a Glenn Greenwald article about how people should react when Margaret Thatcher died a couple of years ago - conservatives saying to be respectful of the family yet predicting things like,
"Former Tory MP Louise Mensch, with no apparent sense of irony, invoked precepts of propriety to announce: Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her."He points out that while the conservatives wanted liberals to be respectful and not criticize Thatcher immediately following her death, they didn't follow the same rules themselves.
"Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez:Greenwald also points out a political, and what I'd call a 'ways of knowing' reason, not to hold off on the problematic aspects of someone's life - it biases the public record and people's emotional record of the person who died.
'To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.'"
"[T]hose who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren't silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person's death to create hagiography. Typifying these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic) statement from President Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend." Those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms."Hagiography is on my long list of favorite words and I'm always surprised at how few people know what it means. Most people at least recognize that the Greek 'graph' has to do with writing (biography, autograph, telegraph) but not hagio which is holy. Technically, hagiography is the writing of the lives of saints. but it's also taken on the meaning that Wikipedia describes:
"the term hagiography is often used as a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose authors are perceived to be uncritical or reverential to their subject."
But I think the problem is not all that difficult. The key is to write a factual account of someone's life that includes both the positive and the negative. Very few public figures are simplistically good or evil. We have the charming fools and we have the arrogant, but effective figures, and many other variations of meshed characteristics.
David G. Savage seems to have walked the tightrope in his overview of Scalia's life, highlighting the complexity of his subject.
Recognizing that he and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were close friends, gives me pause about my general sense of Scalia voiced above. I think his basic ideology is wrong, but he was a bright man, so I need to think through this and check up a bit on both originalism and the decisions he supported. I'm pretty sure I'm right, but he knew he was. Maybe that's my advantage over him.