Grossly overrated novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died yesterday after a fall. I’ve never quite understood why a man of such modest talents received so much literary recognition and became so popular. Some obituaries say that he became the most read author on college campuses. I believe them. In many ways, Vonnegut was the campus Left’s answer to Ayn Rand: a competent novelist who came to take himself far too seriously and found plenty of acolytes willing to do the same.
At his best, Vonnegut did turn out funny, creative stories and novels. His short story “Harrison Bergeron” offers an hilarious send up of the utopian ideal that everyone can be made equal in fact. Despite his own geeky interest in the scientific world—Cat’s Cradle helped me understand ice physics–Vonnegut’s writing dripped with hatred for science and technology. To him, every possibly future had strong dystopian aspects. His view of human nature wasn’t simply tragic. . .it was hateful. Even his “heroes” like Mr. Rosewater and Billy Pilgrim had passive personalities and rather limited intelligence. And Vonnegut hated the very idea of progress. It’s not a coincidence that his last published novel Timequake involved a reversal of “time’s arrow” that forced everyone to repeat every action they had taken during the past decade. (Typically self-indulgent, the book is mostly a serious of digressions about Vonnegut himself.)
Some libertarians, I suspect, like Vonnegut for his perfectly justified dislike of utopianism. But his writing offers a reminder that simple dislike of utopianism isn’t enough for people on the Right: we need to forward a cohensive idea of the real alternatives. In my judgement, Vonnegut never did that.