Life After Buckley

Meditating on WFB, Ezra Klein nails the big picture:

in the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that’s a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies — they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie [emphasis added]. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O’Reilly’s of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we’re now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger. Run a search on quotes from Galbraith, Buckley, or Friedman, then do the same for O’Reilly and Coulter. We’re really losing something here. And we don’t even have Molly Ivins around to wrest it back.

‘We’ are not producing tremendous storehouses of wit, because ‘we’ are not producing intellectual aristocrats as we once did — a generations-long project that actually cannot be preplanned and gamed out and effectively managed by any kind of hive mind or professional organization. At the same time, ‘we’ are not even producing an audience for intellectual aristocrats as we once did — a generations-long project, etc., etc. I would point out that rarely nowadays do the professionally angry make it big without also having an immense talent for public sarcasm. The incredible opportunity provided to the lowbrow by a public taste for being able to mean something and not mean it at the same time has more or less directly resulted in fame and fortune for the Snark Class, who have fanned out across the entire infotainment world.

One disturbing thought is that the seed for this evil kudzu plant was nestled indeed within the imperious irony and cold touch perfected in the Golden Age by the deck-shoe dandies of the blueblooded Right and the Olympian homosexuals of the left intelligentsia. Soon, we discovered, one needn’t write fifty historical novels like Gore Vidal in order to dialectically bitch-slap designated public pinatas sort of like Gore Vidal might do. And one needn’t grow up behind ivy-encurled fencework like William F. Buckley to get a conference room full of coeds to laugh, cheer, and buy autographed copies. More importantly, one didn’t need to be as wise as these men — one could be ‘smart in a different way’, ‘street smart’, ‘incredibly hardworking at what one does’, etc., etc.

So, congratulations, latter-day America, your moment has come, with all the pomp and gravitas of Trivial Pursuit ’90s Edition.

Cross-posted at Postmodern Conservative.