A hundred years ago, Booth Tarkington was probably the most famous and successful author in America. But today, even in Indiana, his birthplace and the state with which he is forever associated, and where I live, Tarkington is forgotten. Purdue University has a dormitory, Tarkington Hall, at which my late father was a faculty advisor. Pathetically, the Hall’s website says of Tarkington only that he was “a Purdue student of two years who as an alumnus, made multiple generous donations to Purdue.” Time has left Tarkington behind. Perhaps this is fitting, though, because he was entranced and bound by nostalgia, an understandable but ultimately pointless guiding principle.
Digital communications technology is yet mostly a formless thing, still being born, upon which we moderns imprint our fears and our hopes. Some dreamers see it as an unalloyed good, which when grown will let us slip the chains of our humanity. Others, more grounded, see it as a genie best stuffed back into his bottle and dropped down a mineshaft, for otherwise its acid will corrode all that is permanent, melting it into the air. James Poulos takes neither approach; he is the apostle of creating the new way of human flourishing, finding the narrow path that threads between false utopia and catastrophe. “Which way, Western man?”, asks the meme. Poulos has an answer for us.
We are not a serious society. Our ruling class are men of no substance, lacking all knowledge and incapable of competent action on any front. The masses, while they sense a great deal is very wrong, are distracted by propaganda and ephemera. We feel we can afford to be unserious, because all of us lead lives of unprecedented material comfort. Any lack is eased by speedy delivery of sedatives designed to mask and hold down chthonic spiritual despair. To be sure, we do not lack for heralds of the coming storm—but we, high and low, have forgotten what a storm looks like. Read this book and you will remember, and you will also know what it is to live in a serious society.
Some men have minds that are simply not like those of others, but far better, on a different plane entirely. Such men are vanishingly rare, and appear to be even rarer, because their unique talents are often lost to mankind, when they are not recognized by or not applicable to the society in which they are born. John Moses Browning, who lived from 1855 to 1926, was fortunate in that his peerless spatial-mechanical talent, specifically for the manufacture of firearms, coincided with the right time for his talents to achieve their full potential. A substantial majority of all today’s firearms rely on his insights; I cannot think of another field in which one man has dominated the entire modern era—and whose work shows no signs of fading in importance.
Christopher Lasch died before this, his last book, was published, twenty-six years ago. Lasch was a man out of time, a refugee leftist who nonetheless refused to embrace what passed for conservatism in the post-Communist false dawn, the main feature of which was idolatry of the invisible hand. No surprise, his message was rejected by its intended audience, America’s intellectual class. Now, however, every one of the problems with our society he identified has grown monstrous, far beyond the power of any dragonslayer to kill. Thus, this book is, at least now, less prescription and more an intellectual history of how we failed as a nation.
I suspect that very few people under forty know who Robert Gould Shaw was. Those older may remember the 1989 film Glory, which told his story. That movie could never be made today (and will probably soon be disappeared, as has been 1964’s Zulu). After all, Shaw’s is an out-and-out “white savior” story, and now that everyone has been educated that the African reality is actually Wakanda, we realize that black people don’t need, and have never needed, a man such as Shaw. Yet even though the Left has racialized all of American life and shrieks ever louder for a race war (something I failed to predict, silly me), I will only touch lightly on race in this review, and will focus on heroism, the traditional center of Shaw’s story. To race, we will return another day.
The people, they demand Michael Anton and The Worthy House! I am again pleased to announce that The Claremont Institute, in the form of The American Mind, a publication of the Institute, has published another Special Edition of its regular podcast. This Special Edition features a second discussion between Michael Anton, author of the crucial books The Stakes and After the Flight 93 Election, and myself. This time, we talk more about applied politics than last time, ranging over a number of current topics, from race relations, to the correct way to perceive and interact with the catamite Right, to the birth dearth, to the printing of fake money. And, quite a bit, of our coming time of troubles.
One fine day in April, 1945, a cousin of mine was shot by the Russians. His name was Félix Straszer. His crime? None, of course. In February, Stalin had conquered and occupied Budapest, overwhelming determined and heroic Hungarian and German resistance. Two dead Russian soldiers had been found in the street, so the Russians rounded up all the men from the nearby apartment houses, collected them in the Gamma Optical Instruments Factory, chose ten at random, and murdered them. As it turned out, the two soldiers had been killed by other Russian soldiers in a drunken brawl, but that didn’t help Félix Straszer.
Private equity has made me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Yet private equity can be, as this book shows, a tool of the devil, a corrosive and destructive force in American life. Still, I do not think the story is as simple as Brian Alexander, the author of Glass House, would have it. The town in which he grew up, and which he profiles here—Lancaster, Ohio—has fallen far from its glory days, as have hundreds of similar towns across America. But the responsibility for that lies not just with the shady private equity companies that looted its largest employer, glass manufacturer Anchor Hocking, or with other elements of our rotten ruling class. It also lies with all of us, who bear more than some responsibility for the degradation of our towns, and of ourselves.
Nothing is accomplished by our society today. That little which seems like accomplishment is merely the sating of useless consumerist desires and the serving up of mental frippery and degradation. Apple is valued at trillions of dollars; that fact says all you need to know. Even something that could be thought an accomplishment, such as the rapid creation of vaccines to help counter the modest damage directly inflicted by the Wuhan Plague, is of dubious real value, and is moreover lost in wholly justified suspicion of our rulers. We have collectively marched, or been marched, into the dead end of a box canyon, and we hear the water rushing toward us. Not so long ago, however, as this book shows, the West was a civilization on the arc to glory. Maybe we can be again.