Saturday, 3 September 2011

Last Empire by Gore Vidal

I’ve recently read Gore Vidal's ‘Last Empire’, a very interesting book which has been constructed by collating a collection of essays published from 1992 to 2000.  The book covers a variety of subject matter; however it was the political content which most interested me.

Vidal predictably promotes his sceptical and disdainful social critique on American politics and government.  It is Vidal’s radical and strong opinions which make him such a compelling author, and whilst the work is now dated, his analysis in this book is often persuasive.

One of the more poignant essays covers the Republican Party’s outrageous and protracted smear campaign, to discredit and overthrow President Clinton during the 90s.  It is interesting to see them using the same oppositional tactics again, now to eliminate President Obama. History can often cause me to muse as to whether time is cyclical, rather than linear. It is certainly very evident that political elites seldom learn anything from the past.

To see how the Grand Old Party’s activists and politicians have behaved over the previous 20 years, it is a wonder to the non-American that they can ever get elected at all – but then nearly all of America’s political discourse, so far as I’m concerned, seems to defy any attempt at rationalisation.

In an age of hyper polarisation, and a slew of literature (for want of a better term) from the deranged Tea Party set, it is most refreshing to read from an American author who doesn’t write partisan bollocks.  It is fair to say that Vidal is most scornful of the political right, but the left comes a very close second.

Much of the emphasis of ‘Last Empire’ is on how American elites have been accumulating power for themselves by coercing the public through deceit and fear.  The creation of a mythical, or at least exaggerated Soviet threat in 1945 and the largely mythical Al Qaida threat today, have been used justify the corruption and degradation of liberty by the ruling powers and most importantly, their sponsors.

It is hard to read ‘Last Empire’, and not to share Gore Vidal’s scorn of the elites who dominate our lives.  Maybe one day, the people may recognise their true potential and we might be governed for the greater good; rather than being oppressed by sectional and self interested cliques.  Until then, at least there are authors like Gore Vidal to read.

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