Walker Percy, Prophet of the Stupid Age

Some quotes from Percy’s 1971 novel Love in the Ruins:

A reflection that might apply to today:

Is it that God had at last removed his blessings from the U.S.A . and what we feel now is just the clank of the old historical machinery, the sudden jerking ahead of the roller-coaster cars as the chain catches hold and carries us back into history with its ordinary catastrophes, carries us out and up towards the brink from that felicitous and privileged siding where even unbelievers admitted that if it was not God who had blessed the U.S.A., then at least some great good luck had befallen us, and that now the blessing or the luck is over, the machinery clanks, the chain catches hold, and the cars jerk forward?

A foreshadowing of both the Religious Right of the ’80s and today’s Deplorables:

The old Republican Party had become the Knothead Party, so named during the last Republican convention in Montgomery when a change of name was proposed, the first suggestion being the Christian Conservative Constitutional Party, and campaign buttons were even printed with the letters CCCP before an Eastern-liberal commentator noted the similarity to the initials on the backs of the Soviet cosmonauts and called it the most knotheaded political bungle of the century – which the conservatives, in the best tradition, turned to their own advantage, printing a million more buttons reading “Knotheads for America”.

This definitely applies to today:

The Center did not hold. However, the Gross National Product continues to rise.

Predicting the literary scene of the 1990s:

American literature is not having its finest hour, the Southern Gothic novel having given way to the Jewish Masturbatory novel, which in turn gave way to the WASP homosexual novel, which has nearly run its course… Gore Vidal is now the grand old man of American letters.

Among campus radicals:

“We are organizing a nonviolent demonstration for peace and freedom in Ecuador.”

“Nonviolent?” I ask, looking at the pile of spiked golf balls.

“We practice creative nonviolent violence, that is, violence in the service of nonviolence. It is a matter of intention.”

In conversation with the devil:

“Doc, we operate on a cardinal principle, which we never violate. We never never ‘do’ anything to anybody. We only help people do what they want to do. We facilitate social interaction in order to isolate factors. If people show a tendency to interact a certain way, we facilitate the interaction in order to accumulate reliable data.”

“And if people cut each other’s throats meanwhile, its not your fault.”

“Doc, we’re dedicated to the freedom of the individual to choose his own destiny and develop his own potential.”

2 comments

  1. Billy Jack · · Reply

    I read “Love in the Ruins” years ago and enjoyed it, but wrote it off as a period piece, a sort of fever dream (or perhaps more appropriately, bad trip) extrapolating the trends of the late 1960s.  Enjoyable as a story and for the way it addressed themes of depression and adjustment to a flawed world; and interesting as at the time I was only beginning to understand how frightening the sixties were for adults of the era, how society seemed to be coming apart at the seams; but for all that it didn’t seem like a successful prophecy.  The trends of the sixties couldn’t go on, and they didn’t.

    So…what’s going on now?  The book does seem prophetic of our stupid age, our stupid age just came about thirty years later than Percy thought.  Maybe we put some of the centrifugal tendencies that took off in the sixties on hold for a while, but they picked up again with a vengeance in recent years.  I’d love to try to sort this out in my own head–how does our current moment relate to the sixties, and what happened in between?

    1. The book was published in ’71, so the tensions continued and peaked with Nixon’s resignation. But then came exhaustion and the Regan-Clinton consensus (in retrospect) that lasted to Iraq 2.
      Percy could not have foreseen the economic boom of the 80s and 90s, the collapse of the Soviet Union (the ideological Cold War does not enter much into Percy’s writing though he does worry a lot about mutually assured destruction) and the subsequent global economic boom. Percy was a dyed in the wool Democrat (though I think the abortion issue pushed him to vote for Regan) so he probably would never have anticipated that the religious right he lampooned would actually be part of an economically successful governing coalition.
      Critical Race Theory has its roots in 60s student radicals and the Marxist origins are plain to see. You would have thought the collapse of the Soviet Union would have put an end to all that. Marxist analysis seems to have a much longer shelf-life than anyone would have thought. It has plenty of explanatory power and it engages people’s self-righteousness so I guess that is the attraction, regardless of the vice and misery it generates.

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