On behalf of all liberals – living and dead – I’d like to apologize to Adam Bellow. In 1976, Bellow was at a Michigan State University writing workshop when a radical feminist publicly rebuked him for saying she had “balls.” He said he meant that as a compliment.
Some formative experiences are forged in the hell of war, others in the crucible of writing class.
Bellow never recovered from his. In a recent piece for National Review, he recounts this 38-year-old hurt as exhibit A for why the right needs to launch its own literary movement to tell its own stories.
“I didn’t see why I should be called out in front of the group and angrily chastised as though I were merely an embodiment of the white male heterosexual power structure,” complains Bellow, son of the great novelist Saul Bellow.
I don’t see why, either, but how about a larger picture? More recently, right-wingers disrupted town hall meetings, shouting down the elected representatives trying to address their constituents. Might that be “a bare-knuckled attempt to enforce an ideological orthodoxy by policing the boundaries of acceptable speech,” an accusation Bellow chucks at the left?
Such examples would cloud the simple tale of mannerly conservatives battling the ‘60s hippies. So down the memory hole they go.
But the long-term memory still works fine. For boomer conservatives, the ’60s remain fresh material. It matters not that most of today’s students barely remember the ’90s, much less the ’60s.
Anyhow, Bellow complains that when he joined the culture war in 1988 as an editor, “conservatives had little to read.” One of the rare examples he cites was “The Road to Serfdom.”
“Serfdom” is a classic we all should read. I especially hope its conservative fans will review Chapter 9, where Friedrich Hayek advocates government-guaranteed health care. But I digress.
Bellow acknowledges that on the nonfiction lists, the right is doing OK. Actually, more than OK.
A quick check shows that No. 1 and No. 7 are by conservative movement authors, No. 8 is by an evangelical Christian, and No. 10 by a Republican strategist. The only liberal in the lineup is Hillary Clinton at No. 3.
The top book, “Blood Feud,” was issued by Regnery, a conservative publishing house.
“For the past 15 years,” the publisher’s website says, “Regnery has boasted one of the best batting averages in the business – placing more than 50 books on the New York Times bestseller list, including nine books at No. 1.”
The author at No. 7 is Ben Carson, a hero of the right. He’s published by Sentinel, a conservative imprint of the Penguin Group. Perhaps, just perhaps, the objective of the media conglomerates now publishing books is to sell books.
But their business interests don’t reach into fiction, according to Bellow. In fiction, conservative authors are “embattled and excluded.”
The only way to fight liberals’ “thought control,” Bellow insists, “is by turning their weapons against them and channeling the spirit of the Sixties counterculture.”
Conservatives must bypass the establishment. They’re already self-publishing their novels through digital technologies, though some are afraid to use their names. “Their resistance and courage are deeply inspiring,” Bellow writes.
You’ve seen those midnight roundups of right-leaning novelists, haven’t you?
The publishing houses must have been asleep at the switch when they let conservative Ayn Rand through the barricades. Her novels currently rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the Modern Library reader’s list of 100 best novels.
Well, imagination is a good thing. And in that vein, I can almost hear the feminist meanie telling Bellow to “man up.”
And don’t anyone ask me to take that back. One apology per column.
• Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence Journal editorial board. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.