Does Milbank walk among us?

Our dear colleague Roland Boer, proprietor of the most cleverly named blog around and one of the most prolific men alive, has pointed out a curious thing: it seems that a commenter going by the name of Alasdair Maclagan is going around defending Milbank on the internet in a way that evinces an intimate knowledge of even the most obscure of Milbank’s texts (see a sample). What’s more, the e-mail address he uses in WordPress appears to be the same as Milbank’s own.

Surely this situation is difficult to account for. Yet if I had to venture an analysis, I’d say that there seem to be two possibile explanations. First, Milbank is engaging in sock-puppetry posting under a pseudonym. Many people regard pseudonymous posting in one’s own defense as sock-puppetry and as pathetic behavior, an attempt to create the appearance of broader support for one’s own position than actually exists. If one were in the business of providing positive spin, however, perhaps Milbank reasons that if he used his real name, people would be intimidated and not debate as vigorously. Second, this could be an elaborate scheme to discredit Milbank by making it appear that he is engaged in sock-puppetry.

Which possibility is it? As with the eternal question of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. Whoever he is, though, it seems clear that Alasdair Maclagan is going to have an ever-increasing amount of work on his hands as more and more people get ahold of Milbank’s essay in The Monstrosity of Christ. Perhaps the burden will be too great and he’ll disappear into the mist.

22 thoughts on “Does Milbank walk among us?

  1. Perhaps Roland could contribute further information by doing a reverse WHOIS on the IP addresses of Alisdair’s comments, or providing the IP addresses to others. Of course, I don’t think we can definitively answer this question until the person behind it confesses, whoever he or she is. I maintain a stance of studied agnosticism here.

  2. Maybe it’s just some guy who likes Milbank a whole lot, and that’s why he’s using Milbank’s email address.

    This is admittedly not very plausible, but it’s at least as plausible, I think, as the theory that someone who knows a lot about Milbank is going around defending Milbank in order to discredit him by making him out to be a sockpuppeter.

  3. I’d be stunned if Alasdair MacLagan is not written by John Milbank – so many familiar patterns of thought – but I don’t think it is helpful to accuse him of sock-puppetry. These contributions were not an attempt to praise Milbank so much as an attempt to engage in a debate without having all the baggage that might be attached to his public identity. It is important to be generous with interpretations of motives. I can certainly sympathise with the desire to speak with people on the level without presuppositions blocking communication.

  4. Philip,

    I’m not sure I agree that it was an attempt to engage in debate. I don’t know though, I made a decision early on to write under my own name for my own reasons, and I have defended people’s use of pseudonyms in the past, but it really did seem that Alasdair (whoever he may be) was not taking a different posture towards thought. Also, being the object of some insults from Alasdair, I hope it isn’t actually John as one should have the strength of character to say these sorts of things without another name.

  5. I guess, what I mean, is that Alex has presented a rather learned and even tempered analysis of Red Toryism and the points have not been engaged with. Instead there have been insults directed towards ecological and youth movements.

  6. I do see how someone of Milbank’s stature would want to be able to get “down and dirty” without bringing his public persona to bear — it might be the only way for him to get to participate in honest debate without genuflection. (The calculus is different, of course, with someone like me or Anthony, who has always participated in debates in our own names, but in important respects first formed out public personae online.)

  7. Ha! I’m finding this whole thing rather silly in many ways, though there are interesting questions about online discussion, academic politics, authorial personas, and the like surrounding it. I shouldn’t be surprised so many people are interested in it though.

  8. I’d be careful about saying he’s engaging as a sock puppet. That’s primarily when one is already present in an online community and wants to add a second persona to that same community that is supposed to be separate from the original. It doesn’t look like Milbank haunts the internet like we do, so to say that he’s playing a second persona with the intention of being separate from his own might be a stretch — especially if the Alasdair name hasn’t denied being linked to Milbank. I don’t see second personas as necessarily bad (I am many!), however I do think it’s good to be consistent with the different images (e.g. I use a different name for really different affairs).

  9. I think we might need a new term, however, given Milbank’s unique status in these blog circles (and again, assuming it’s really Milbank, which we don’t know — one plausible possibility is that it’s a very closely identified student, though I don’t have specific people in mind here). He’s very much a public figure, and he’s using the pseudonym for things he wouldn’t otherwise publicly say, including clear insults directed at his own students. I propose that we dub this particular abuse of psuedonyms “cock-puppetry.”

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