Humour is conservative

I don’t know what to make of this.

One of the differences between conservatives and we classical liberals is that we do humour better than they do. And way better than the left.

Libertarian humour is a fantastic idea, one that would never cross my mind, but at least I can see the funny side in saying it. I definitely do not read Ayn Rand or Mises for their lighter bits. Humour is essentially the preserve of conservatives. You might say Woody Allen or Seinfeld are funny and they are on the left. But that’s just their politics and here we are discussing what makes what they write funny. Where have you seen humour as conservative as in, let us say, Midnight in Paris or Annie Hall or almost any Seinfeld episode? Portrayed is the world as it is, in which we see life with a comic touch. Here is the list put together by The Guardian of the 100 best novels ever written in English. I will pull out the ones that are comic (and note they are in date order only). Almost all the authors are conservative by nature, and even where you might associate them with the left, there is no utopian madness found in any of these.

3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)

Now find me anyone funnier than Mark Steyn today or Ann Coulter. The left just laugh at people from their smug superior view from above. To be conservative means not just to understand the human condition but to show sympathy with life’s victims, which is everyone. I was asked the other day for a joke about the Scotch which led me to this (and please also note that final bits of dialogue in the story must be in a Scottish accent):

An Australian goes into a shop selling tartans somewhere in Glasgow and asks for a length of MacIntyre tartan. The shop assistant says that he’s terribly sorry but they have sold out of the MacIntyre tartan. This Australian grabs the shop assistant by the collar, shakes him around a bit, and says look, I didn’t come all this way to Scotland not to be able to buy my clan tartan when I got here.

Just one minute, says the shop assistant, I will check with my boss out the back. So he goes into the backroom, and says to his boss that there is this mad Australian out the front, who insists on having MacIntryre tartan even though I told him we had run out.

OK, says the boss, give him this, and throws him a piece of cloth.

But that’s not MacIntyre tartan, says the shop assistant, that’s Dunlop tartan.

That’s OK, says his boss, Dunlops have been MacIntyres for years.

What is quite interesting about the story is that in this very short narrative there are three different personalities involved, each one of whom is as real as anyone you might meet. It’s the world as it is. No one is trying to prove some kind of subtle political point, although there’s no reason why they couldn’t. It’s really no more than a pun, but the humour is situational. You could actually imagine this as a real-life event.

It is this same absurdist humour you find in Steyn and Coulter. It is essential that you agree with their politics before you find what they write funny, but they both write about the world of politics in ways that make you see reality differently, but also more accurately.

Ann Coulter is the more difficult to appreciate because she is so hard hard edged. There is no writer I admire more since what seems just off the top of her head polemics is actually very well researched analysis of what is going on around us. But her style is brilliant but only someone with the most highly developed sense of irony could pull it off. This is what she does:

1. Make a factual statement

2. Make a joke about what she has just said.

Here is an excerpt from In Trump We Trust from which I have taken the following.

The media successfully smeared Romney as an out‐of‐touch multimillionaire, whacking working‐class Americans with his polo mallet. He was helpless. Tasteful people don’t talk about themselves, and they certainly don’t talk about money. Not Trump! Early in Trump’s campaign, journalist Mark Halperin asked him about the “backlash against rich candidates like Mitt Romney—any chance of that with you?” Trump said, “First of all, he wasn’t rich.”

And that was that. How do you attack someone for being rich who is constantly bragging about how rich he is? Yes, yes, I’m a WASP, too—it’s appalling, embarrassing, awful—but oh, my gosh, does it work! Luckily, voting machines register only yes or no—not yes, but I hate myself.

You know, I laughed when I read it for the first time in August and I laugh at it again now. This is funny even with a serious point. What is there on the left that is the equivalent of that? As for libertarians, I won’t even ask you to look since why search for unicorns when there are other things to do with your life.

BTW if you haven’t read Ann Coulter, or Thomas Love Peacock, it’s time you did.

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