Nobel Laureates Say the Darndest Things

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, co-author of the now-classic 1996 primer on Latin America’s statist political economy, Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot (“a book criticizing opinion and political leaders who clung to ill-conceived political myths despite evidence to the contrary”), revisits the region in the current issue of Foreign Policy, and finds that the Idiot is stil alive and kicking, with a few updates for the times.

[T]oday’s young Latin American Idiots prefer Shakira’s pop ballads to Pérez Prado’s mambos…But they are still descendants of rural migrants, middle class, and deeply resentful of the frivolous lives of the wealthy displayed in the glossy magazines they discreetly leaf through on street corners. State-run universities provide them with a class-based view of society that argues that wealth is something that needs to be retaken from those who have stolen it. For these young Idiots, Latin America’s condition is the result of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, followed by U.S. imperialism.

Just as their musical tastes have declined, their leaders and strategy have shifted.

Two leaders in particular inspire today’s Idiot: President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia. Chávez is seen as the perfect successor to Cuba’s Fidel Castro (whom the Idiot also admires): He came to power through the ballot box, which exonerates him from the need to justify armed struggle.

So, while a shift from the infernal to the merely horrible may seem like a slight move in the right direction, there are some bright spots.

Even in Latin America, part of the left is making its transition away from Idiocy—similar to the kind of mental transition that the European left, from Spain to Scandinavia, went through a few decades ago when it grudgingly embraced liberal democracy and a market economy.

Examples of such leaders are Brazil’s Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez.

Yet in the United States and Europe, the Idiot’s friends haven’t changed much, and few institutions have been more eager to honor this mindset than the Nobel peace and literature prize committees, as Vargas Llosa’s (rather funny) compendium of incredibly stupid Nobel quotes shows.

Here’s my favorite (with Vargas Llosa’s rejoinder):

Günter Grass, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1999

Ignoble Quote: “Cubans were less likely to notice the absence of liberal rights . . . [because they gained] . . . self respect after the revolution.”— Dissent, Fall 1993

Reality Check: How would you feel, Günter, about trading your bourgeois liberal rights, including the right to publish, for a bit of Cuban dignity?