All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1992

Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice and Alcohol-Free Beer

Give War a Chance is, baldly, “about evil-evil ends, evil means, evil effects and causes.” Ordinarily, evil is so commonplace that on its face P. J. O’Rourke admits it’s no big deal to play it up. After all, every day the front page of most any newspaper reports evil, evil, evil. Evil sells newspapers. It also sells novels, movies, magazines, and television shows. We are all Adam and Eve—fascinated, if not beguiled and seduced, by the serpent in a thousand guises, tendering forbidden fruit.

But in re-reading this collection of previously published articles, what surprises political satirist O’Rourke is his own discovery of how much rampant evil is authored or abetted by one group: those ubiquitous starry-eyed people—the progressives, closet collectivists, bleeding hearts, mushy moral relativists everywhere, i.e., the liberals.

In O’Rourke’s words, liberals “. . . are people I had been accustomed to thinking of as daffy, not villainous. Getting their toes caught in sandal straps, bumping their heads on wind chimes—how much trouble could they cause, even in a full-blown cultural-diversity frenzy? (I mean if Europeans didn’t discover North America, how’d we all get here?)”

P. J. O’Rourke then goes on to charge that every iniquity reported in his book—and by my random count there’s an average of eight iniquities per page or more than 2,000 in the book—is traceable to bad thinking or bad government, to intellectualism unhinged—to modern liberalism.

Liberals, he points out, are the gang of brain-washers in the media, pulpits, classrooms, courtrooms, legislatures, and elsewhere, those bad boys and naughty girls in our midst who are busily making trouble by doing good for everybody including, ironically, themselves. They frequently make trouble by doing good under the rubric of “freedom” or “democracy,” by which they secretly mean bullying, arm-twisting, state coercion. And they do so ever so angel-like, so sanctimoniously (sanctimoniousness is half their creed), that they get away with murder.

To quote the author: “Liberals want the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums. That liberals aren’t enamored of real freedom may have something to do with responsibility—that cumbersome backpack which all free men have to lug on life’s aerobic nature hike. The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors—psychology, sociology, women’s studies—to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault.”

Liberals, further holds the author, have an infantile view of the world. He writes: “At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child—miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.”

Yes, P. J. O′Rourke is himself sometimes nasty, raunchy, and given to four-letter words, but at least he’s no hypocrite, no two-faced Janus. He’s simply without pretension, without dissembling. At times he gets emotional at the tumbling-down of the Berlin Wall or at the liberation of Kuwait City. But he is funny. He’s out to save neither the world nor fools from their own foolishness. He’s calling a spade a spade, skewering liberals on their own hook, and having a lot of fun doing it.

Take his treatment of President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. (He also treats, among others, Dr. Ruth, Lee Iacocca, and the Kennedys). Not long ago the Carters wrote a book, Everything to Gain, a book of incredible blandness and do-gooding naivete, a book nonetheless glorified in The New York Times Book Review as an “autobiography that is part confession, part pep talk and part handbook for activism . . . an inspiring account of the creation of a meaningful life.”

Meaningful? I wonder. P J. O’Rourke reports this guileless Rosalynn quotation in Everything to Gain that gives the reader a double take: “I have worked with the problems of the mentally afflicted for years, ever since I first became aware of the needs while campaigning for Jimmy for Governor.”

Or this one:

“When I was young and in high school, during World War II, I thought Hirohito was the cruelest man in the world next to Hitler. I blamed the whole Pacific conflict on him. Years later . . . we went to Tokyo and called on a sweet little elderly man, who raised flowers in his hothouse at the palace . . . . This was Emperor Hirohito—as far removed from my conception of him as he possibly could be.”

So the Carters ramble on in what P. J. O’Rourke tags “puerile and ignorant prose,” into which he occasionally interjects his two cents.

Can P. J. O’Rourke be victimizing the Carters, liberals par excellence? He points out that liberals are fond of victims and seek them everywhere. Victimology is their raison d’être. Minorities are their happy hunting ground. (Women, in the majority, are somehow declared to be a minority. Neat trick.) And the more victimized the better—the best victims being too ignorant, rattled, or addled to challenge their liberal benefactors, who proceed to victimize their victims further (not unlike that hit-and-run driver who sees his victim stagger to his feet and backs up to hit hun again). 

Dr. Peterson, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is the Lundy Professor of Business Philosophy at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina.

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.