Mark Mason

Bookends: Self help guide

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Here is the latest Bookends column from this week's issue of the Spectator:  

P. J. O’Rourke is what happens when America does Grumpy Old Men. Instead of sour-faced curmudgeons bleating that ‘politics is just a load of crap’, you get a succession of amusing and incisive observations about why politics is a load of crap. And his solution is that we should stop looking for solutions — from politics, that is. For the real solution, we need to look in the mirror.

In his latest book, Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards, O’Rourke’s humour is used to advance arguments (‘the government is taking a third of your pay ... is the government doing a third of your dishes?’) as well as to satirise: a typical National Public Radio headline, he says, runs: ‘World to end. Poor and minorities hardest hit’. Making no apology for rehearsing well-worn philosophies, he bags targets with single shots. ‘We live in a democracy, rule by people. Fifty percent of people are below average intelligence. This explains everything about politics.’

Not that O’Rourke is advocating any other system of government. Rather he’s calling for less reliance on government full-stop. The references may sometimes be Uncle-Sam-centric, and the one-liners fail to cover up the inconsistency between the author’s economic libertarianism and social conservatism (‘my wife gave birth - suddenly I was an opponent of change’), but overall this book is a powerfully witty challenge to the ‘What Are the Government Going to Do About It?’ generation. Useful stocking-filler for any revolting students in the household.