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home : opinion : e-opinion June 25, 2022

3/1/2022 2:24:00 PM
Remembering PJ O'Rourke
Libertarian man of letters taken away too soon
Contributed photograph - Writer PJ O’Rourke is seen here in the better days of 50 years ago.
Financial Times photograph - O’Rourke enjoys his trademark stogie in 2014.

Contributed photograph - Writer PJ O’Rourke is seen here in the better days of 50 years ago.

Financial Times photograph - O’Rourke enjoys his trademark stogie in 2014.


From The Desk Of
Thomas Lark


When PJ O’Rourke died Feb. 15, the world lost a memorable voice in the world of political satire and analysis.

O’Rourke was 74 when he lost his battle with cancer. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he gave us a unique insight into Washington and elsewhere, puncturing political pomposity and posturing in a style worthy of Twain at his epigrammatic best.

Consider some of O’Rourke’s best observations:

“The minute people join a committee…they immediately suffer from ‘committee brain.’ They become wildly over-enthusiastic, over-optimistic and over-pessimistic. Committees turn people into idiots, and politics is a committee.”

And––

“A US dollar is an IOU from the Federal Reserve Bank. It’s a promissory note that doesn’t actually promise anything. It’s not backed by gold or silver.”

Or, a thing the terrorists of Black Lives Matter and other Sino/Soros-sponsored communist agitators and homegrown traitors would do well to remember, especially these days––

“Russians not only vehemently despise blacks, but they also believe Africa begins at the Ukraine border.”

And a skewering of one the very worst presidencies in our chequered history, right down there with the failed administrations of Jackson, Tyler, Buchanan, Lincoln, Wilson, Truman, both Johnsons, Carter, the Bushes and Clinton––

“The good news is that, according to the Obama administration, the rich will pay for everything. The bad news is that, according to the Obama administration, you’re rich.”

Or––

“Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit.”

And––

“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs. We should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and the love of power.”

As well as––

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

And––

“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

 favorite, from three decades ago this spring––

“There is nothing more mealy-mouthed, bullying, irresponsible and victimized than a well-coddled self, especially if it belongs to a liberal…The liberal is continually angry, as only a self-important man can be, with his civilisation, his culture, his country and his folks back home. His is an infantile worldview. At the core of liberalism is the spoilt child––miserable, as all spoilt children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.”

I love that. How very dead-on accurate. I’ve dined out on that one for long years. Liberalism is indeed a mental illness, and it’s the sick anti-culture of the spoilt brat. Thank you, PJ.

O’Rourke famously repudiated his own Hippie past, cutting his long locks and donning conservative suits. He didn’t entirely abandon it of course, rather as I still enjoy the music of the Beatles, the Police and so on. But one must separate art from artist, quite often, and it will be a frosty morning in Hell when the day comes that I ever take socio-religio-political lessons from John, Paul, George and Sting.

In O’Rourke’s case, as The New York Times recently noted, he observed that if one were to be weird, as he genuinely, self-deprecatingly believed himself to be, it behooved one to dress normally. Conversely, he knew there was “nothing at all interesting about the pimply kid with three earrings in his snotty nose,” and he dismissed such barbarians as mere boneheaded bores.

Someone once described O’Rourke as “the only conservative with a sense of humour.” That’s wrong. He was uproariously funny, yes. But he wasn’t truly conservative. He let Republicans and Democrats alike have it with both barrels, as well he should’ve, as both are appallingly liberal. O’Rourke was a Libertarian, and sure, there are many stripes of that new party, only half a century old this year. Its adherents, disappointed by Nixon’s antics, came mainly from the Republican party, and wags often described them as “Republicans, only more fun.”

But at the end of the day, Libertarians are entirely too liberal, and their philosophy breaks down all to easily into unworkable utopianism and even callous cruelty. Show me a man who honestly reads and somehow likes Ayn Rand, and I’ll show you an idiot. 

Still, with O’Rourke, you forgive a lot. I’ve read him since the good, old 1980’s, back when he was the lone voice of reason and what merely passed for conservatism at Rolling Stone. That rag hasn’t been worth reading in 30 years, and it’s a minor miracle that Jann Wenner’s waste of trees still exists.

One could find O’Rourke in other publications, from Playboy to The Weekly Standard, or sometimes on TV’s talking-head political shows. Even when I disagreed with him, I still learned something. Truth is, the man taught me a lot.

Then there was the wild side. Again, back in those glorious ’80’s, Car and Driver magazine paid him to drive a Ferrari across America and write about the journey. The cigar-chomping O’Rourke laughingly recalled exceeding 120 miles an hour on a flat Florida freeway and getting into a race with the driver of a Porsche. But only for a couple of seconds. He soon dropped what he called “that bean-shaped Nazi-mobile” like a rock, as if it were standing still.

In 2014, Hester Lacey of the London-based Financial Times asked O’Rourke what his earliest ambition was.

“To not grow up,” he replied. “Unrealised, but not for lack of trying.”

His literary tastes was impeccable.

“Authors such as Saki, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash and Thurber were my mentors,” he said. “There was never a fraught relationship, because they were dead.”

Lacey also asked O’Rourke how politically committed he was.

“Very,” he said. “But I’m sometimes mystified as to what I’m committed to. I’m a classical libertarian but also a Burkean pessimist, which keeps me on the conservative side. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

It was perhaps with that in mind that he surprised everyone by his dreadful volte-face in 2016. O’Rourke actually supported the objectively evil and truly hideous nominal wife of Bill Clinton in her ill-starred run to steal the White House.

“She’s wrong about absolutely everything,” the writer declared of said demonic, designing woman, according to Politico. “But at least she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

That’s treason. Supporting Lady Macbeth over Donaldus Rex, the greatest president since Theodore Roosevelt, was both wrongheaded and demonstrative of an appalling lack of political understanding. But again, with PJ, you forgive a lot.

Talking of the Ukraine (and it really is “the” Ukraine, as my Slavic friends will tell you), O’Rourke touched on a similar topic not 30 years ago, citing the Bosnian War, in which Slick Willie backed the wrong horse (Mohammedans! Good God, what a moron!). According to the BBC, O’Rourke observed that Americans’ apathy about said war enabled them to jokingly dismiss it as a case of “the unspellables killing the unpronounceables.”

I daresay he’d feel the same about the current tempest in a teacup in said Eastern European underbelly armpit of the earth. The mutual sanction-slapping will accomplish nothing, and it’s tempting to write off the whole thing as a micturition contest between Vlad the Impaler and doddering Clueless Joe, the reanimated 80-year-old corpse in the White House. What a joke; a very bad one, too.

O’Rourke wrote some 20 books, among them the aptly named Parliament of Whores. In it, with his typical perception and dry wit, he lacerates the American system of government in especial and democracy in general. Republican or Democrat, Tory or Labour, they’re all liberal and all wrong. And people wonder why I’m against democracy.

I think again of Twain. He was wrong about much (he, too, was far too liberal), but he is mighty handy in some areas.

“We have the best government money can buy,” he once quipped.

How true that remains. And again, to paraphrase Catholic writer Charles Coulombe, people wonder why I favour a system so good (absolute monarchism) that it occurred spontaneously and independently to every society in human history and was in place for long millennia.

Hell, as someone said, is a democracy, but Heaven is a monarchy. And I sincerely hope that ole PJ is Up There now, debating and discussing with Waugh, Bill Buckley and others.

O’Rourke married a Catholic, and, being obviously of Irish descent, with County Roscommon roots, he called himself “a Catholic fellow-traveller.” He believed in God, albeit in an unorthodox way. And I pray he is now amongst a host of angelic friends, enjoying a nice dram of Jameson’s.

Here’s to you, PJ. Slàinte Mhòr!



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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Article comment by: Rachel Morey

Great article about PJ O'Rourke! Love the wit and wisdom of Thomas Lark. I am informed and entertained each time I read his work.



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