Johann has gone on and on, adding some comments to his defence and removing others. In two respects these relate partly to me. What he has added is a postscript that is largely fanciful but contains one notable, if ungracious, statement. So far as I can work it out - and I'm fairly certain I've understood him correctly - Johann confirms that when he described me as "an outright defender of neoconservatism", he was indeed deriving this judgement entirely from the title of my book, Antitotalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy.
This is odd, because an outright defence of neoconservatism is not, in fact, what my book advances; instead, my book is an outright defence of the left-wing tradition of antitotalitarianism, exemplified by Ernest Bevin among others, with a concluding observation that part of the movement that has come to be known as neoconservatism now accords with those leftist ideals. I wouldn't expect my readers necessarily to be interested in that rather esoteric history, and I raise it in this post only to indicate a mode of argument that I fear Johann is prone to. If I were to submit an article to one of my editors in which I summarised someone's argument entirely from the title of a book that that person had written, and especially if I managed thereby to get the argument wrong, I believe my editors would have something to say about the diligence with which I had approached my commission. A blog post is not on the same plane as a commissioned and edited article, and I do not regard Johann's lapse as particularly serious.
But what is more serious is that Johann has behaved this way too with a published article - namely his review of Nick Cohen's book, What's Left? - which is how this whole dispute arose. I do not doubt that Johann read Nick's book before commenting on it, but beyond that, he has failed in the first task of a reviewer. He hasn't given an honest or competent account of Nick's argument, or of the foreign policy debates - particularly those relating to the influence of neoconservative ideas on US foreign policy - that he presents as background. In the case of the latter, notably in presenting neoconservatism as a device for the advance of big oil interests, his article might just as well have been in comic-book format for all the seriousness with which he has approached his subject.
What Johann has (so far as I can see) excised from his response is a justification of his legal threat against Harry's Place for a post about the Hari-Cohen dispute. Johann used as an example that I had once considered a similar course myself, as described in this post. Johann's analogy is not accurate or careful. False and defamatory material on the Web is the writer's occupational hazard - Johann is almost certainly more a victim of it than I, but I get it too. The difference between us is that I have never required anyone to remove material about me that has been posted on the Internet. (As Johann knows, I did on one occasion - on my initiative and not at Johann's request - go to some lengths to rebuff a crank who was outrageously stalking Johann on the Web.)
Here is my disclosure. I have used lawyers on four occasions since I started writing. Unlike Johann, I have done so from my own resources. One was nothing to do with defamation, and involved no communications with a third party, but was simply a request for legal advice on an issue of privacy. The other three involved threats of legal action against me. In each case I concluded, after taking advice from a leading libel lawyer (I retained one on either side of the Atlantic), that the complaints were devoid of merit, and I declined to remove from this blog the material that had generated the compaint. Two of the complainants fell silent immediately on hearing from my lawyers, and I have consequently never written about them. The third is the gentleman whom Johann has described in his response to his critics as "the depraved pro-Milosevic writer Neil Clark".
I do not consider Mr Clark to be depraved, but he is, from my experience, deficient in wisdom and prudence. I don't propose to rehearse my legal encounter with him once more, as I've described it in detail in the past. I merely point out that my accusations against Mr Clark were unquestionably covered by a defence of fair comment and justification (i.e. what I had said about him was true). My comments were also on a matter of public interest. Mr Clark had published in a national newspaper a factoid concerning the Balkan wars that I discovered had come directly from an organisation that promoted the appalling cause of "Srebrenica denial", and that Mr Clark had not represented that source accurately to his editor. (The poor fellow had apparently got confused between an obscure American organisation, which I was certain was his real source, and the well known International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London.) I could prove this with Mr Clark's own emails to the newspaper. I therefore declined to remove from this blog the material Mr Clark objected to, or (as he demanded) to apologise to him and pay him damages. Mr Clark's attempts to issue a writ against me were not a model of competence, and the presiding judge of the court where he issued his purported writ (which didn't even have jurisdiction to hear the case) struck out his claim immediately on application from my lawyers.
Here is the singular analogy. Johann is a writer as different from Neil Clark as can be imagined. He is highly intelligent and I have long admired his commentaries. I do not always share his choice of allies, but there is a large overlap in our list of enemies: europhobes, xenophobes, religious fundamentalists, social authoritarians and so on. But Clark's threatening letters to me began when I queried a book review (irrelevantly, the book was by me) that was patently incompetent. Clark's purported review attributed to me arguments that were not contained in the book, and advanced a particular dubious and unresearched assertion about Balkan politics. It would be inconceivable for Johann to laud a figure such as Slobodan Milosevic, or use similar material to Clark's sources. But he has written a review that falls short of the standards his editor should have required, and he has made an imprudent threat of legal action that I do not consider redounds to his credit.