If there is one thing we know about those 1960s radicals, it is that they were idealists. Maybe they were a bit loopy; maybe they were irresponsible, drug-ingesting hedonists; but at least they were—and, those who are still with us, are—free of that narrow-minded addiction to materialism and middle-class values that have made the United States such a bastion of (horrible thing!) capitalist enterprise.
One of the first bourgeois values that these paragons dispensed with was consistency. “Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman famously asked in Song of Myself (a title that would work well as a motto for the Sixties generation), “Very well, then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” The caring, sharing, unmaterialistic radicals of the 1960s are, to a man, Whitmanesque in their tolerance of contradiction—or, to call it by an older term, hypocrisy. Remember Allen Ginsberg? The pedophilic, drug-intoxicated, pseudo-poet who calumniated Madison Avenue, capitalist “Amerika,” and materialism in one breath and preached peace-love-brotherhood the next? How Whitmanesque that Ginsberg should have received $980,000 from Stanford University for his papers.
Ginsberg did not live long enough to enjoy that largesse, but perhaps Susan Sontag will be luckier. Sontag has made a career out of hating America and everything it stands for—“mechanized, anxious, television-brainwashed America,” a country that was “founded on genocide,” went on to glory in “lethal” barbarism, and is “inorganic, dead, coercive, authoritarian.” America, Sontag wrote, “deserves” to have its wealth “taken away” by the Third World. Well, maybe not quite all of its wealth. There is, for example, the $1.1 million that the University of California at Los Angeles just paid for Sontag’s papers. Sontag might elect to donate those funds to the unfortunate Third-World multitudes she has exhibited such ostentatious concern for. Somehow, though, we suspect she would regard that course of action as insufficiently radical, not to say insufficiently Whitmanesque. “America” may “deserve” to have its wealth taken away, but not S. Sontag.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 20 Number 7, on page 2
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