Who in God's name is Kurt Andersen!


Words of wisdom from Manhattan's highest brightest elite: We have never quite figured out who Kurt Andersen is.

Yes, he’s part of the Gotham High Elite. You can see that from this overview, constructed by the foremost authorities on his career:
WIKIPEDIA: Kurt Andersen (born August 22, 1954) is an American novelist who is also host of the Peabody-winning public radio program Studio 360, a co-production between Public Radio International and WNYC. In 1986 with E. Graydon Carter he co-founded Spy magazine, which they sold in 1991; it continued publishing until 1998. Previously he has been a writer and columnist for New York Magazine, ("The Imperial City"), and The New Yorker ("The Culture Industry") and Time ("Spectator"). He was also the architecture and design critic for Time for nine years.
You may be getting the picture. In fairness, we’ll assume he’s a very good novelist. His novels have won some awards.

To see his wife's thoughts praised by other foppish "elites," go ahead—just click here.

That said, we’re often puzzled when Andersen sounds off in his thoughtful op-ed columns. On July 4, he asked a good question in a New York Times piece, then offered a very rank answer.

This is the way the upper class thinks—the “intellectual” upper class, Manhattan’s most clueless elite:
ANDERSEN (7/4/12): This spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts—women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll—but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?

There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room.

What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.
According to Andersen, blacks, women and gays won rights because “selfishness won.” This is “all of a piece” with the financial triumph of the Masters of the Universe class.

His boxed sub-headline captures it best: “The ethos of the 60s explains not only social liberalism but greed.”

Only a High Manhattan Elite could reason in such a way. Everyone knows why the upper classes—the Masters of the Universe—have steadily gained on the billionaire front. Starting in the 1950s, they began fighting back against the damage done them by The New Deal.

They created extremely well-funded “think tanks.” These think tanks began churning propaganda. (If we lower the tax rate, we get higher revenue!)

They fought back hard against high tax rates. They fought back against that vile “death tax.” They fought regulation of all kinds. They bought our politicians.

Paul Krugman describes this history in The Conscience of a Liberal. On its face, this history has little to do with that of the civil rights era. With the thought that women should have a full range of choices and opportunities. With the idea that a kid who is gay shouldn't be hounded, tormented.

No one is quite as mentally strange as our Manhattan elites. They’re hopelessly bougie and self-involved; that includes the Famous Manhattan Women who drag around the feminist label even as they waste their lives churning Tinseltown pap and otherwise keeping their traps shut.

Unfortunately, these elites play an outsized role in shaping the understandings of our hapless liberal world. We’re dumb enough to go to their movies; we’re dumb enough to praise their moral greatness. At any rate, by the end of his piece, Andersen is offering this account of the world:
ANDERSEN: People on the political right have blamed the late ’60s for what they loathe about contemporary life—anything-goes sexuality, cultural coarseness, multiculturalism. And people on the left buy into that, seeing only the ’60s legacies of freedom that they define as progress. But what the left and right respectively love and hate are mostly flip sides of the same libertarian coin minted around 1967. Thanks to the ’60s, we are all shamelessly selfish.
“We are all shamelessly selfish!” In fairness, that's almost surely true in the sea where this fellow swims.

How insightful! The Enrons and Lehmans were “shamelessly selfish”—just like Rosa Parks was! Who but a creep from our highest elite could churn such ridiculous pap to mark the Fourth of July?

Who did Dr. King think he was kidding? Who but the empty-souled New York Times would put such piddle in print?


  1. I see a lot of liberals claim that conservatives have won. It depends on what one means by winning.

    On the level of policy, liberals have had a string of victories. Since the 60's, we've added Medicare, SCHIP, Obamacare, expanded unemplyment insurance, and other programs. Meanwhile, AFAIK we haven't eliminated any major government programs.

    1. None of which were sufficient to offset the trends in wealth accumulation and decreasing taxation that have so dramatically favored the wealthy. Perhaps you're focus is a bit narrow?

    2. How very telling, David, that you regard Medicare and SCHIP as "defeats" for conservative values. For you, apparently, the Third World model is far more appealing -- at least until the First World Model, with its many subsidies to business and government intervention in the economy, allows you to acquire enough wealth to want to kick the ladder away for anyone else.

      Or perhaps your focus is, as suggested, selfishly narrow -- you're rich enough not to need Medicare, and you don't care if poor children don't get government assistance.

      Should we attribute that selfishness to the 60s, as glib, insufferable Kurt A. does? Somehow I doubt even you would be that ridiculous.

    3. Anonymous July 5, 2012 2:19 PM, you think governmnet programs are good for the poor. I admit that it looks that way.

      And, yet, when one looks at otherwise comparable pairs of cities, states or countries, the poor generally fare better in the one with with fewer government programs. E.g., compare East Germany to West Germany, before unification. Or Detroit vs. Dallas. Or California vs. Texas.

      One reason is that government programs generally have hidden costs. These costs hurt the poor more than the specific program helps them. Another reason is that much government money is spent on the non-poor, e.g. in Medicare, Social Security, student loans, Farm Supports, etc. Not to mention that a large amount of government spending goes to well-paid employees with enviable pensions.

    4. East Germany Vs. West Germany. That's one way to look at it.

      But why not a smackdown: Germany vs. the US today. Germany has a very generous social welfare system: cheap education and healthcare, long vacations, etc.

      Germany's govt also controls corporations.

      Contrary to what you say, "the poor generally fare better" in Germany than the US. Lower poverty rate PLUS cheap health care PLUS cheap higher education.

      For example, see here:

  2. Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah, et. al.

  3. Oh, Kurt Anderson of SPY magazine! Well, thanks to the '80s we are all ironic. Can't tell if he's lauding or decrying the virtue/vice of selfishness. Do his award-winning novels feature John Galt-like heroes who build unorthodox skyscrapers?

    Come to think of it, what a bunch of self-absorbed brats those Founding Fathers were.

  4. What interests me is not that he says it's all about selfishness (I think he's right, BTW; I think all of human existence is about selfishness, by evolutionary design, and there are few exceptions to this rule), but that he had this sudden "epiphany." This stuff has been publicly dragging out or the better part of 5 years now, and he only now has an "epiphany"? What else has been going on to attract the attention of this guy's precious brain cells in that time?

    Anyway, Bob, you're largely off base on this one. Give the guy some credit for even talking about this subject out in the open, because it generally isn't done among his class of people, and that he ascribes it to selfishness is doubleplusgood, because it at least suggests human beings can do something about the current abysmal state of affairs. The usual approach of the people in Anderson's class is to say "Nothing can be done, maybe we'll talk about educating the little people so they can compete, but we won't actually do anything about education, either, except to blame the teachers, and try to bust up the public education system and their unions, which we hate for reasons we don't understand, or at least, won't talk about." So Anderson gets a (barely) passing grade from me for at least partially blaming himself and his peers. You've got to start somewhere in a dialogue, and this is a start.

    1. "Give the guy some credit for even talking" is a pretty damn low bar, given the utter drivel and wrongheadedness of Amderson's comments.

      But go ahead, if you can, try to help us understand why his analysis makes sense even if you feel he's late to it:

      Was MLK relevant?

      Is "greed" or "selfishness" the right way (or even a very enlightening way) to describe his work, the movement he fronted?

    2. Five years? Please. This has been the conventional wisdom about all those '60s lefties since the '70s. And it gained major traction in the '80s under guess who's presidential term.

    3. @Anonymous July 5, 2012 3:43 PM

      MLK: a black man fighting for the rights of black people (like me). Gee, not an ounce of selfishness there, no siree.

      Are you naturally stupid, or did you practice to get this way?

    4. What an unnecessarily nasty response. What is your purpose in posting in this manner - other than releasing an ugly energy which must be too painful to keep self-contained. What a low, ugly view of mankind you seem to have! Are you improving anything or making anything better in any way with such mean-spiritedness?

    5. Not that it isn't clear anyway, but that's obviously not TIL's goal, Volt61.

      What could be stupider than to ask whether MLK's movement is best understood as one of greed and selfishness?

      But TIL graciously deigned to answer us anyway.

      We learned nothing about MLK, naturally, but we did learn something about TIL.

      So it wasn't all in vain.

    6. Except I didn't use the word "greed" -- that's your word. As for "selfishness," I suppose it's just coincidence that MLK, and Jesse Jackson, and Ralph Abernathy, and Medgar Evers, and so on and so on were black. People fight for their own interests first. That's human nature. And if you actually want to do something to change things, understanding what motivates people is the first step. Otherwise you end up with results, oh, a lot like those that the "liberal" movement has been getting over the past couple of decades. But of course, most liberals weren't actually fighting for their own interests, particularly the kind of liberal that congregates on forums, so the results we've gotten should come as no surprise.

  5. TIL:

    There is a huge literature on the evolution of prosociality in primates, so it's not clear that evolution is "all about selfishness."

    1. There's group selfishness as well. A certain amount of cooperation and self-sacrifice is built into us -- we got where we are because we can cooperate, because there are times when one of us will sacrifice for the rest of us to go on, particularly when the sacrifice is tied into the well being of some affiliated tribal group. But that's not the kind of selfishness we're dealing with here. We're dealing with things where individuals are looking at their best interests, and weighing them against some amorphous idea of the greater good, and being asked to sacrifice their own interests for that amorphous greater good. And it's a sacrifice being made for groups (the poor, minorities) that the sacrificer increasingly has no contact with, and thus, no affinity for. People who are willing to do that on a large scale are very, very rare. Many of them end up becoming saints or other religious figures, and there aren't many of those. It takes more than being willing to give up a seat on a bus for an old lady or pregnant woman or some such.

  6. Bravo, Bob. Best post you've done in a long time. And thanks for reading the op-ed for me. That kind of vapid, self-absorbed crapola pretending to be high-minded "analysis" is bad for my health.

  7. Integration is the sharing of power, resources, and responsibility.
    MLK Jr.

    Lately there has been a lot written about what we might call the “Social Darwinization” of America. Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal, Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire, Aftershock by Robert Reich, are on the short list. What’s notable is that these books are short, readable, and not wonkish.

    Liberals sneer at the objectivism as set forth by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Brandon, but the fact of the matter is that too many Americans have accepted the idea that greed is not only necessary to keep our economy growing, it is also hard wired into human nature.

    Just as the Popes told their flocks that a war against Islam was a war for god, a war against social entitlements is a war on the side of human nature, and thus an act of great virtue.

    Richard Newhall wrote about Pope Urban II starting the Crusades with a speech condemning the Muslims for attacking pilgrims, hinting that vast wealth could be amassed in the east, and that waging God’s war would absolve the warrior of all sin
    And so we were taught that Communism and socialism are the implacable enemies, that capitalism was the road to riches for all those willing to strive, and standing up for natural law would put us on the side of God and Country.

    The rich and powerful have been pushing that message hard since the end of WWII, and liberals have not been pushing back.

    For a while, conservatives thought the battle was lost, what with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, TVA, FDA, EPA and a host of other popular programs.

    The united front of liberalism fell apart after the pullout from Vietnam, while the Republicans started a great campaign to train young leaders to take over the entire country.

    They are on the verge of doing just that now.

    I remember attending a victory rally on a college campus shortly after the fall of Saigon.
    The “peace creeps” were mostly scruffy and hairy, and dressed in t-shirts and jeans.
    Off to the side, the Young Republicans, dressed in three-piece suits, with hair carefully parted, did not act like losers at all. Rather, they smirked and chatted in a relaxed manner.

    You see, they were working on a plan. And so were the Young Americans for Freedom, and the College Republicans, and they were all cooperating with each other to achieve the same goal.

    In 4 months, we will know if all those decades of planning and work paid off.

    1. What a great story!

    2. I guess you missed the part where the Muslims had conquered large parts of the world and were well on their way to conquering Europe before the Crusades stopped them in their tracks.

  8. A problem for which I see no solution is that the brightest and the best recognize politics for the plague that it is and seek other means of fulfilling their lives. This results in a bevy of mediocre men and women who can compete amongst themselves for funding without being interfered with by experts, indulge in analytical thinking or sweat seriously over issues. The most sought after talents in a candidate are articulate mendacity and belief in governance through public relations.

  9. Well, once again Somerby overreaches by taking a screed with which perhaps no one else on the planet agrees with and then projects it into the thinking of an entire class of imagined "enemies" -- Gotham High Elites.

    Of course, Andersen goes completely off the rails when he conveniently forgets that lots of people sacrificed their lives and their careers by taking courageous stands for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

    He should also read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Fourth of July speech, 1964, if he thinks the civil rights movement was rooted in selfishness, or John Kerry's "Winter Solider" testimony before Congress if he thinks that anti-war movement was purely selfish.

    But as for why this "piddle" should be published, perhaps the only way to expose crackpot ideas is to expose them. And there is certainly a strain in contemporary reactionary, right-wing (I won't even call it "conservative") thought that says all the problems we have today are rooted in the licentious, selfish 60s.

    Yeah, that notion has been pimped to us for decades, especially as a social issue wedge as Thomas Frank explained in "What's the Matter with Kansas."

    But by "Gotham High Elites"? I don't think so.

    1. If this post were in response only to this column, it could be considered an overgeneralization or strawman, but Somerby reads these publications on a regular basis and thus has experience to base his generalization on.

      When he attributes a point of view to these elites it is not on the basis of a single column, as should be obvious to anyone who reads Daily Howler on a regular basis.

    2. Yes Somerby is overreaching. He does that a lot these days. But I don't think what Andersen says is peculiar to just reactionaries or crackpots. Indeed, you can find similar strains of thinking among some of our supposed elites, many of whom are indeed in New York. Just as one example, David Brooks spouts similar ideas in the very same newspaper on a regular basis, and it can be found in a lot of co-called centrist thinking as well.
      As someone nearly the same age as Andersen I also think there is a grain of truth to what he says. Or more accurately, Andersen has identified a strain of libertarian egotism that was very much a part of the 60's, in crude terms, the sex, drugs and rock and roll half of the equation. On the other hand, again in very crude terms, the peace,love and understanding ( I am including social justice under this rubric as well) were not about selfishness at all. Hence, as Somerby rightly points out, the anti-war movement (mostly), the civil rights movement, the womens movement, the environmental movement and much more - all very much parts of and outgrowths from the 60's culture in no way lead to Gordon Gekko and the unfettered free market as religion crowd. If Andersen had tried a little harder at parsing this out he might have made a meaningful point.

  10. By the way, here is a link to a Daily Howler post in which Somerby blasts Michelle Malkin for doing exactly what he is doing here -- building a strawman out of one person's silly argument and projected that to an entire hated class.


    Ah yes, the good old days when Somerby's scope was much broader than MSNBC or the NYT op-ed page.

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