Taruskin objects to writing in which there are no human agents doing things. "This sort of writing gives everybody an alibi. All the active verbs are described in the passive voice. Nobody is seen as doing or deciding anything. Even the composers ... are not described in the act, but only as a passive vehicle of 'emergence.'"
Yet this passage caught me up short, because I find RT to be really addicted to passive constructions himself, as well as to writing with subjects of the verbs other than human agents. Here it is the "sort of writing" that gives alibi, and the next verbs are all passive. On the next page, he writes:
"Reasons for the long and embattled dominance of internalist models for music history in the West, (reasons that account for Dahlhaus's otherwise inexplicable prestige), have more than two centuries behind them, and I shall try to illuminate them at appropriate points. But comment is required up front about their special reason for dominance in the recent history of the discipline, reasons having to do with the Cold War, when the general intellectual atmosphere was excessively polarized (hence binarized) around a pair of seemingly exhaustive and totalized alternatives. The only alternative, it then seemed, was a discourse that was totally corrupted by totalitarian co-option. Admit a social purview, it then seemed, and you were part of the totalitarian threat to the integrity (and freedom) of the creative individual."
There are only two agents here, one in a sign-post (I will illuminate) and the other in hypothetical you at the end. Everything else is passive voice or abstractions backed up by other abstractions. While this paragraph is clunky prose, I think it is not realistic to conform to the idea of using only, or even mostly, human agents as subjects of sentences. Taruskin only notices this kind of writing when other people do it, or when he disagrees with the writing for other reasons. The next paragraph, too, is mostly passive voice and copulative verbs, with only an active verb in the final sentence: "We acknowledge that out methods are ground in and guided by theory...." With more passive voice. I'm sure I could find examples on every page of his book. My point is not to condemn his use of passive (which is not my preferred voice in my own writing) or his hypocrisy, even. I think he is simply not self-aware about his own writing style, or the extreme effort it would require to write scholarly prose using mainly human agents as subjects of sentences in the active voice. He writes clearly and grammatically, but is unaware of what his own style really is. He has an idea of something he dislikes when other people do it, but he doesn't realize what it would take to fulfill his own stated ideal.