COMPARE AND CONTRAST: First Things and Crooked Timber on Cornel West.
As it turns out, I have a comment I'd like to add: this reminds me in some ways of the retirement of Bobby Bowden. For people like me who came to sports pretty late (around the time I went to college), he's always been a man whose best days were behind him. The fuss around him was strange and often seemed undeserved. For people who knew him on the way up, he cuts a different figure. The difference between the two views is jarring, or can be, if you've only ever been exposed to one.
The same sort of thing appears to be true about West. The Crooked Timber-ers, being mostly on the left, have been following him since the time when he really did appear to be something new and dynamic. Their reflections, then, look at West as a tragedy: a man who could be (and in at least some contexts is) doing so much more than what now brings him notoriety. The conservative rap on West is drawn almost entirely from his pop-intellectual phase, beginning, more or less, with the Larry Summers incident. Like with Bowden, one can easily be left with the impression they're talking about two different people.
My own reaction is somewhere in the middle: West gave the best lecture I've ever attended, and by a significant margin. He was the first contemporary philosopher I ever encountered who considered religious belief something other than an impediment to philosophy. I still think his talking points on the weakness of humanism and the difficulty of doing philosophy in America are well-taken. And I find him frustratingly vague or obtuse even in some of the work that made his early reputation. But so it goes with many academics: would that Rawls had spent less time responding to minor criticisms of his work, or that Nozick had ever again bothered with politics. Alas.