Log in

No account? Create an account

The Overton Window

Elle loaned me her copy of Glenn Beck's Overton Window earlier this week and I finished reading it a few days ago. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be. Polemic novels often sacrifice good storytelling to rhetoric, but this was a rather lively read. At times it put me in mind of Ayn Rand's novels. It's 321 pages long, which is about how long the Atlas Shrugged might have been if all the speeches and paragraph-long descriptions of people's facial expressions were trimmed out.

It centers around an unusually successful and powerful PR firm called Doyle & Merchant. This mythical company is responsible for the popularity of various boy bands, Che Guevara T-shirts, and the lottery (purportedly coining the phrase "you have to be in it to win it".) It also
helped whip up public support for the Iraq War.

The firm is run by Arthur Gardner, a man so ruthless he fired a woman for looking at her watch while he was giving a speech at a Christmas party. He reminded me a lot of Gail  Wynand from The Fountainhead. Both are men in the media business, who use media to wield power over others.

The main character is his son Noah Gardner, a somewhat spoiled 28 year old with very few ideals or principles. This slowly changes after he meets and falls in love with  Molly Ross, a politically active young woman.  (Since Glenn Beck wrote this novel, you can guess that she's active in a Tea Party like movement.) These changes put him in conflict with his father and some of the goals of his father's firm.

The contrast between Noah's father and Noah's love interest  mirrors the contrast between today's political factions today. It put me in mind of a recent American Spectator article by Angelo Codevilla entitled  America's Ruling Class-And The Perils Of Revolution.  The article divides people into two classes...the ruling class, which consists of intellectuals,bureaucrats and politicians, and the country class, which is most of the rest of the country. The ruling class wants "rule by expert" (which makes sense, since it consists mostly of experts) while the country class wants a more Burkean, organic approach to governance. Beck is on the side of the country class, as is his character Molly Ross. The novels villain, Arthur Gardner, represents the ruling class. Near the end of the novel he tells his son that if we "leave the useless eaters to their pursuit of happiness" then "the result is always slaughter and chaos and poverty and despair". The useless eaters he refers to are the majority of the American people.

There are lots of good arguments against letting people like Arthur Gardner run things. Hayek and Burke have made them better than I can.
And in this book, Glenn Beck does a pretty good job. He also includes an afterward explaining some of the factual material and literary references he uses in the book. Some of them I was already familiar with, such as Carroll Quigley's Tragedy And Hope. I've known about that since I read None Dare Call It Conspiracy in high school. A  cited  author I was unfamiliar with was Herbert Croly, whom Arthur Gardner was patterned after. Interestingly, Croly is also mentioned in Codevilla's article.

It was well written. Some non-political highlights for me was a passage describing the smell of bacon that I wish I had written and an amusing subplot involving Natalie Portman. I wouldn't describe it as "Hitchcockian" as one blurb did, but it was a fun read.