The liberal interventionist Paul Berman addresses the “ultra-right” tendencies of Alex Cockburn…
He expresses an ardor for P. G. Wodehouse. He concedes that, during the World War, Wodehouse made the mistake of allowing himself to be broadcast over Nazi radio from Berlin, but he chooses to celebrate Bertie Wooster’s maker, even so, as “the greatest writer of the twentieth century, with the possible exception of Flann O’Brien”—a sincere literary evaluation, I suppose, but also a sincere gesture of solidarity for one more upper- class Brit with ultra-right–wing instincts who, unappreciated at home (given the broadcasts), felt obliged to live out his years on the lam in far-away America.
This is like imputing sinister motives to someone’s fondness for chocolate, border collies or wild flowers.
There was nothing “ultra-right” about P.G. Wodehouse. His broadcasts were naive but, then, he was naive. There are worse things to be. Never have I seen evidence that he was at all interested in politics, still less the politics of militant nationalism. If anything, the “frightful ass” Roderick Spode was evidence that he disdained the fascists. Berman is quite simply libelling the dead.
Even if Wodehouse did have sympathy with the Blackshirts, though, what would his point be? A black cloud might drift across the Edenesque universe of Jeeves, Wooster, Psmith and Lord Emsworth but his would still be the greatest comic novels of all time – the enjoyment of which implies nothing more about a reader than that they have a respectable appreciation of humorous prose. Cockburn could place his ideology aside to recognise its value. Paul Berman, it appears, cannot – which is further evidence to support the view that liberal imperialists share with “ultra-left” and “ultra-right” movements a tendency towards seeing the world through the narrow blinkers of their political prejudices. It is a bore.