Anthony Burgess, author of Clockwork Orange, resident in 1973 in Rome, was overdue in supplying “a thinkpiece” commissioned by Rolling Stone, and wrote his editor (Hunter S. Thompson) offering to submit a 50,000-word novella he’d just finished on the condition humaine instead. Thompson replied thusly:
In 2008, James Poulos (who takes the aesthetic Bohemian approach to American political life) bought into Barack Obama’s BS. He knows better now and can be found wistfully imagining the fun if Dr. Thompson was still around to observe and comment on the hideous smoking-and-burning wreck that the current administration has made of both the American economy and democratic government. Picture Hunter Thompson, stoned on several different potent substances, writing up an essay, which Rolling Stone could not bring itself to decline, on Michelle Obama’s covert 50th Birthday Party, conducted in the manner of Elagabulus, but obligingly neglected by the lapdogs of the MSM.
Hunter Thompson is fun and easy to abuse for oneâ€™s own political purposes, but we are woefully all the poorer for having lost him in 2005, before he had a chance to discover that the power dynamic he railed against at the peak of his powers was still with us, smarter and dumber than ever. …
[T]here are now so few Democrats with even a wistful, nostalgic connection to the days when Freak Power thrived on the left. On a bad day, the landscape resembles a shameful two-species ecosystem: old corporatist behemoths casting long shadows over flea-bitten packs of communists so young and frustrated that theyâ€™re always on the verge of bursting into tears. …
We were on the back half of the Bush years. Something new, possibly even wonderful, would soon be in sight. Sure enough, the impossible happenedâ€”Hillary Clinton was beat, fair and square, by someone so sonorous about the possibilities of choice and resilience that he received the Kennedy stamp of approval, and then Americaâ€™s.
Innocent times. Now, that special someone has left the crown of hope in the gutter, overwhelmed and infected by the propaganda of neediness and choicelessness that fuels the rule of fear over so much of our daily life. Progress has somehow gone from an inspiring option to an individual mandateâ€”a grim necessity we are obliged to grind out. …
This was the touchstone of Obama â€™08. Now it goes all but untouched. There was a dazzling gonzo streak to Obamaâ€™s insurgent campaignâ€”a sense not of historical inevitability but of people, real people, going off on an incredible tangent, so crazy it just might work. The mood of the moment was nearly the opposite of todayâ€™s Obama, with his nationalistic claptrap about how â€œAmerica doesnâ€™t stand still.â€
No, Mr. President, we donâ€™t. We shift with unease from one foot to the other. We fretfully pace the floor. America is becoming a waiting room.
Weâ€™re waiting for more shoes to drop. The nagging, nervous energy that dominates our personal and political lives belies the harsh lesson of executive action: the more constant the crisis, the more impotent it is apt to grow.
Two hundred years ago, the French liberal Benjamin Constant saw the same pathology in Napoleon Bonaparteâ€™s waning days of despotism. Trapped in the cycle of permanent emergency and perpetual action, he wrote, â€œservitude has no rest, agitation no pleasure.â€
Patrick Non-White imagines the late Hunter S. Thompson’s reaction to that notorious bed-wetter David Brooks’ recent screed opposing the legalization of pot and arguing that government ought to “subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship” by sending out Gestapo teams armed with automatic weapons to break down doors and to nudge Americans in the direction of being better persons by throwing them into prison.
The silver 2001 BMW 535i roared through Adams Morgan, occasionally screeching over the sidewalks as my accountant wrenched both hands from the wheel for another toke at the weed-pipe. “Gadzooks, man!” I shouted. “Can you keep it together for another fifteen miles, or at least outside the District limits?” We were halfway through our 35 mile journey from Bethesda to Falls Church, with enough dangerous narcotics to stun a grizzly bear in the trunk: We’d started with nine ounces of weed, six rocks of crack, a sugar jar full of blow, 36 vicodin tablets, a cage filled with live Bolivian arrow toads, and two jars of ketamine. Plus two quarts of Beefeater gin, a case of Schlitz malt liquor, and a four ounce ball of Afghan hash: Surely enough to get this pair of degenerate drug addicts to Fall’s Church. After that what man could say?
It was Edmund Burke, the English statesman and philosopher of the Good Life, who asked, “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?” In the Burkean ethos, freedom unconstrained by wisdom “is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.” I reflected that Burke’s wisdom had never been constrained by a head full of mescaline, or a heart thumping on two tabs of amyl nitrate, so perhaps there were things the grand old man of the eighteenth century British polity did not know.
Read the whole thing and raise a central finger in the general direction of David Brooks.
Hat tip to Tom Maguire.