What are the odds that one of the world’s best political commentators happens to be an expert on the songs of Cole Porter? Or that he knows more about Frank Sinatra’s singing than all of Australia’s commentariat put together? Or that this same person happens to be funny, and I mean fall on the ground, laugh-out-loud funny? So funny that he can be writing about something catastrophic – the rapid decline of Western civilization, say, or the creeping lack of will across the West’s political class to defend freedom of speech (are you listening Tony Abbott and George Brandis?) – and yet do so in a way that will make you laugh until tears run down your face.
I refer, of course, to Mark Steyn. Hugh Hewitt, the American talk show host, describes Steyn as ‘columnist to the world’. That is because Steyn has written for outlets in the UK (think the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the world’s and Australia’s best weekly, as all those reading this review will agree, The Speccie). He’s written for US publications (think National Review, think Wall Street Journal, think the Atlantic, and more). He’s written for Canada’s National Post and its main weekly Macleans. Heck, the man appears every now and again in the Australian.
And when Steyn tried his hand at books he wrote the New York Times #1 bestseller America Alone. He followed that up with another bestseller After America. If you needed to sum both those up in a sentence they amount to perceptive (and yes, incredibly humorous) accounts of what will happen to the West and western civilization if we extrapolate from current trends. The answers are not pleasant. Nor are they easily contested.
This is his latest effort. It is a collection of his best, or perhaps what he considers to be his most enduring, newspaper and weekly pieces going as far back as when Bill Clinton was President and sticking his nose (or whatever) where it didn’t belong. Indeed in the Introduction to this book Steyn repeats some of his ‘Monica’s dress’ gags (they’ve not withered with time) before explaining how 9/11 changed all that for him. As Steyn puts it about himself, his writing went all ‘jihad, demographic decline, the death of Europe, all the fun stuff’.
But that said the mood is not all doom and gloom in this latest book. Steyn mixes it up, giving you some music pieces on the great American songbook. He gives you plenty on politics, from the US, UK and more. He gives you pieces on what you might think of as the West’s changing culture. The reader is taken on a ride whose overarching theme cannot be described as ‘optimistic’, but which never, ever fails to be beautifully written and funny. Have I mentioned that this is the funniest political columnist alive today?
For Australian readers, especially those with sympathy for the plight of Andrew Bolt, Steyn’s riff on Elizabeth Warren (now a US Senator, but not when he wrote this) is alone worth the price of the book. These six pages (26-31) on the current Senator from Massachusetts are brilliant. This is the woman who ticked ‘yes’ to the ‘Are you Native American?’ box on the Association of American Law Schools form. Harvard Law School, where she worked, had her on its books as a native Indian hire with a rival law review stating that ‘Harvard Law School hired its first woman of color, Elizabeth Warren, in 1995’.
She claimed to be a Cherokee Indian, on the basis of a 1/32nd genealogy. But she eventually couldn’t even show that degree of connection. Luckily in the United States writers can still write about such hypocrisy. And they can write about it with all the withering sarcasm and all the biting tone such actions deserve, because that sort of sarcasm and that sort of abrupt tone is exactly what the author is saying such hypocrisy deserves. An academic discussion on the perils of affirmative action is beside the point. What needs expressing, in a withering way, is the ridiculousness of any society supporting this sort of garbage.
Now I know that here in Australia the judge in the Andrew Bolt case, Justice Bromberg, made it clear that he didn’t like Bolt’s tone in the complained against pieces where Bolt essentially made the same point about affirmative action and identifying as a minority that Steyn does here – though Bolt’s tone was far less biting than Steyn’s. So I suggest that Justice Bromberg avoid reading this chapter. In fact, I suspect Justice Bromberg would be better off not reading any of Steyn’s book.
Indeed, I imagine that to many the tone would be quite off-putting were you the subject of its wrath. Now some might think that’s the price one has to pay to live in a free and democratic society, that we all have to be tone deaf (as it were). Alas, apparently not in this country.
Have I mentioned how disgraceful it is that this Coalition government, elected on an explicit pledge to try to repeal our s.18C hate speech laws, threw in the towel on any sort of effort to do just that on the basis of a pathetic – yes, I mean pathetic – allusion to ‘Team Australia’ and not wanting, I suppose, to jeopardise team morale? I can tell you what the decision to cave in actually jeopardised was my morale and confidence in the new Coalition government.
Where was I? Oh yes, Steyn’s riff on the Warren claim to be a Cherokee maiden, which went so far as for her to send in her favourite native Indian recipes back in 1984 to the Pow Wow Chow cookbook. But let’s not be too harsh. Or as Steyn puts it, ‘let’s cut Elizabeth Fauxcahontas Crockagawea Warren some slack here. She couldn’t be black. She would if she could, but she couldn’t. But she could be 1/32nd Cherokee.’ Well, she could claim to be.
As I said, Steyn nails Warren’s hypocrisy and the ridiculousness of so much of the affirmative action industry tone dead. Sorry, I mean stone dead.
Let me finish by doing what any reviewer should do. Giving you his or her take on whether to buy and read the book. Yes and yes, are my answers. Or in terms Mr Steyn might himself appreciate, when it comes to his latest book: ‘It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely’.
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James Allan is a regular contributor to The Spectator Australia
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