Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 31, 2002
WAR/POLITICS: PJ O'Rourke Interview

PJ O'Rourke, interviewed in the Atlantic: "one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with."

O'Rourke also has some provocative observations about conservatism and humor:

"Libertarianism is a way of measuring how the government and other kinds of systems respect the individual. At the core of libertarianism is the idea that the individual is sacrosanct and that anything that's done contrary to the well-being of the individual needs some pretty serious justification. The burden of proof should always be on people who want to restrict the individual's liberty and responsibility."

"That's different from conservatism. In its worse forms, conservatism is a matter of "I hate strangers and anything that's different." But in its better forms, conservatism simply says that the structures of society, both civil and political, religious and so on, are the result of a long series of trial-and-error experiments by millions of human beings, not only all over the world, but through time. And that you should toss out received wisdom only very carefully. Obviously there are some ideas that were around for centuries that were not good (slavery comes to mind). But when people have been doing something for a millennium or two, there is probably a reason. And you better be pretty careful before you just throw it out."

Do you find that conservative humorists have a different humorous sensibility than liberal ones?

"Well, I don't know about that. I think that all humorists are essentially conservative, because humorists depend for a lot of their jokes on getting the reader or viewer or listener to laugh at things that are outlandish and strange. The audience is not laughing at things that are familiar or, as we may say, "conservative." The ridicule of the new and the odd is at the root of all humor, so in a way, even the most left-wing humorist is a conservative. Christopher Hitchens when he's being funny is an example of that."

O'Rourke's observation underlines why I, like most post-Reagan 'conservatives', am probably more libertarian than conservative, more apt to look at longstanding practices and ask why they can't be replaced with something that gives more autonomy to individuals and less control to government. As I've emphasized before, though, most people of my leanings continue to shy away from identifying with libertarianism because (1) in its doctrinal form, libertarianism doesn't just prefer individual autonomy to tradition; it raises individual autonomy to the kind of value that can almost never be outweighed by anything else; and (2) conservatism is much more respectful of religion and morality, which are the essential building blocks of a civil society.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Politics 2002-03 • | War 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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