By Arthur O’Sullivan
A few days ago, the world learned that the renowned libertarian-conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke died of lung cancer at age 74.
If you are reading this, chances are high that you are a student who has only heard the name recently, if at all. His most famous work is from the 1990s, where he would lambast the politics of the day, famously quipping, “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”
I was introduced to him almost seven years ago by one of his most famous books: Parliament of Whores. My recently-teenage mind was quite tickled by such a book title being visible on the shelf. Asking my parents about it, I was encouraged to read it. Though slightly disappointed that it wasn’t a smutty novel with legislative undertones, I was pleased to discover a witty and engaging treatise on the effectiveness and morality of government. His digression on “civics class” even now sticks in my mind.
Prior to reading Parliament of Whores, I was politically raised on a steady diet of schlocky culture warriors on YouTube, those who would always screech about “SJWs,” or “politics in video games,” or any hot button issue of the day, while never looking at the broader picture. So although they may serve their purpose in life, they alone can never make for a solid intellectual foundation. This book, therefore, was an introduction to a much deeper and more cogent style of discourse, while never being so boring as the government it critiques. Through his dry wit and acerbic prose (of which Binghamton Review can learn much), O’Rourke was able to smuggle in a brilliant and trenchant critique of American politics, and its pervasion through all institutions with even a crumb of authority, from the most obscure suburban town hall meetings to the highest courts and legislatures of the country.
After that book, I quickly read Eat the Rich, his libertarian treatise on economics, whose section on Scandinavia inspired me enough to write a rather terrible 9th grade research paper. I then remember reading All the Trouble in the World, his exploration on the “existential issues” of the day (overpopulation, famine, global warming etc.) though I do not remember finishing it. Of all of his books I read, that one most clearly shows its age, with many of the prophets of doom having been exposed as charlatans by now (though O’Rourke may have called them out in their own time).
To that end, I intend to finish that book once I can find it, as well as the rest of O’Rourke’s bibliography. If it’s not already obvious, I believe that you should too. A fierce critic of Trump, Clinton, and Biden alike, he never lost his principles as an iconoclastic icon, still a rare sight on the American right in (or perhaps as a part of) the age of Trump. If nothing else, read Parliament of Whores for its timeless conservative message:
“A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them.”