Thursday, January 11, 2024

Radical Wolfe: Does the New Tom Wolfe Documentary Cover the Man in Full?

Of course, if we stop burning fossil fuels society will collapse. Yet this is what our leaders are determined to do. Their radical stupidity tends toward totalitarian measures, leading to total destruction. Such is the nature of today’s ruling elites (who believe in cutting back fossil fuel use). Andrew Lobaczewski, who described the psychologically abnormal profile of the totalitarian politician, warned that many people spend their lives under the influence of abnormal personalities. Lobaczewski wrote, “When I explained … that they had been under the influence of a psychologically abnormal person for years, accepting her delusional world as real and participating (with perceived honor) in her vindictiveness … the shock temporarily stifled their indignation.”

– J.R. Nyquist

Go on, try to remember what Theresa May achieved in politics at all, let alone as prime minister. It’s not easy.

– Gawain Towler

Forgotten Creators

The subtitle is How German-Speaking Scientists and Engineers Invented the Modern World, And What We Can Learn from Them .  This is a 5501 (!) pp. work, published on-line.  I haven’t read it yet.  By Todd H. Rider. 

 Why does no one write like Tom Wolfe any more?

The conservative hypothesis, however, fails to explain why it is that liberals are less willing today to read and enjoy writing that is sardonic or critical towards parties dear to them. The explanation for the change ­of heart is simple and has little to do with any moral failing on the part of liberals – still less heady notions of a “woke mind virus”. In Wolfe’s 1970s heyday liberalism, and with it the Democratic Party, still felt itself to be hegemonic in American life. Democrats had run both chambers of the legislature with only brief interruptions since the 1930s. Civil rights and a new set of social welfare policies enacted under Johnson represented recent testaments of political strength.

In such an environment, liberals could easily afford to laugh along as Wolfe took aim at their darlings. It was not until the election of Ronald Reagan, in 1980, that the balance shifted and the US entered an age, one still with us, in which American conservatism and liberalism represent roughly equivalent political forces.

It took longer for intellectual culture to catch up to political fact. In time, as Wolfe faded from the scene, a more strident liberalism emerged – not, as conservatives often assume, more strident because more powerful, but the opposite. A politically weakened liberalism found the joke wasn’t funny any more.

Here it has to be admitted that the problem is not merely one of liberal demand for writers like Wolfe but also one of conservative supply. Liberals, after all, also have a ready answer for why there aren’t any Tom Wolfes any more: it is because conservatives are just so angry these days. Gone are the days of William F Buckley, of a wry, patrician conservatism that delivered its message with dry wit in mellifluous mid-Atlantic tones, goes the argument, now it’s all invective, all rage. To write like Wolfe, after all, it is necessary to sublimate one’s resentment of liberals into the wry detachment that is a prerequisite for satire, something fewer conservatives are capable of today.

Wolfe famously told the story many times of how he managed to show up at Lenny and Felicia’s Park Ave. duplex in 1970 to record their infamous fundraiser for the Black Panthers (ellipses in original):

“One day I was hanging around a hallway at Harper’s… I wandered next door into the office of David Halberstam, who wasn’t there. Nosily I noticed a rather fancy card on his desktop … It was an invitation from Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia, for a reception at their apartment at 895 Park Avenue, corner of Park and 79th Street, in support of the Black Panthers. Now, there was a match made on Donkey Island for you … You were supposed to RSVP to a certain telephone number. So I called it, using David Halberstam’s telephone, and said, ‘This is Tom Wolfe, and I accept’ …

Today, such Cold War behind Communist lines reconnoiters still occur, but for both better and worse, in the age of YouTube and Twitter, they’re much more likely to involve hidden camera video rather than something approximating Wolfe’s killer prose. (And anybody who tried to imitate Wolfe’s highly caffeinated style in 2023 would instantly be seen as a cheap copy anyhow.) But when moments occur such as the tony law firm of WilmerHale coaching all three of the Ivy League presidentswho thought they could make mincemeat of Rep. Stefanik’s grilling at the start of the month on campus anti-Semitism, they cry out for some sort of recreation of Radical Chic, if only to be, as Wolfe said of his role in documenting the original affair, “the man who laughed in church.” Unfortunately though, there’s no doubt that with Wolfe’s death in 2018 and P.J. O’Rourke’s last year, the right lost two of its very best satirists and prose stylists.

Earlier: Radical Wolfe: Does the New Tom Wolfe Documentary Cover the Man in Full?