James writes (cross-post with The New Criterion):
I attended a lunch talk today sponsored by a libertarian non-profit think tank. The guest speaker was the boomer humorist P. J. O'Rourke. I must say, he wasn't all that good. The subject of the talk was O'Rourke's new book on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. I thought that the conclusion of this book review from the Baltimore Sun pretty much summed up my own feelings about the performance:
O'Rourke's book is a peculiar kind of satire. By turns smart-alecky and oracular, it gives readers something to do instead of thinking. O'Rourke professes to share Smith's skepticism about all-encompassing systems, but he applies the economic theories of The Wealth of Nations indiscriminately, indifferent to the changing realities of a post-industrial age of information. Laughs aside, O'Rourke's "Cliff's Notes" to Adam Smith are an abridgment to nowhere.
Am I the only one who thinks that the Rolling Stone-National Lampoon literary style of over-enthusiastic, underwhelming libertarianism hasn't aged well? I had the same feeling when reading The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie by Chris Miller, another National Lampooner. In Miller's case, the thought of a writer who is eligible for the AAPR discount basing his literary career on copping a feel 50 years ago stuck me as rather sad and pathetic. Here the stories were more lecherous than charming (unlike the movie Animal House, which for many reasons remains a masterpiece).
O'Rourke can't bank on his youth any longer either, and his sort of hip out-of-it-ness strikes me as flat. O'Rourke prides himself on still using a typewriter. I find it more lazy than charming when culture writers choose not to use the internet. Appealing to what he perceived to be our own sloth, at his luncheon talk, O'Rourke promised to read The Wealth of Nations "so you don't have to." By the end of the event, after a three course feeding of sweetened half-observations, I came to wonder if O'Rourke had read The Wealth of Nations himself.
Compared to the boomer humorist typing away on his Selectric II, I'll take Wikipedia any day.
As an aside, if you are looking for a truly stimulating non-profit program of talks and events, with speakers ranging from Mark Steyn to David Pryce-Jones to Andrew Roberts (who is coming up next month), look no further than The Friends of The New Criterion.