Joan Didion’s conservative side

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Sydney Leach’s op-ed on Joan Didion (who recently received the National Humanities Medal at the White House) deserves a read. Her observation that Didion was much more a moralist than an activist certainly rings true. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion’s 1968 collection of essays — and 1979’s The White Album (both mentioned by Leach) — are classic works from an essayist who (while maintaining a certain journalistic distance) heroically told the truth about culture, even when it made the left mad.

If you don’t have time to read Didion’s oeuvre, let me suggest three important essays you can easily digest in the time it takes to make breakfast:

1. Slouching Towards Bethlehem (the essay, not the collection of essays) exposes the dirty underbelly of the all too often glorified hippie drug culture in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, circa 1967.

2. Bureaucrats (The White Album) is exactly what it sounds like: An examination of inefficiency, incompetence, and waste in government. Here, Didion profiles a boondoggle project of the California Department of Transportation — a project whose costly interventions, efforts, and studies only make problems (congestion, crashes, etc.) empirically worse.

3. The Women’s Movement (The White Album) is a shocking critique on second-wave feminism. The first sentence will give you the gist of her take on the politics of victimhood: “To make an omelette you need not only those broken eggs but someone ‘oppressed’ to beat them…”

These were works of journalism. Her goal was to inform; to tell the truth. This likely changed minds — and a potential byproduct of that is action. If one’s writing is so eloquent and persuasive that it compels others to take action, that is perhaps the highest compliment. In that regard, here’s hoping we may all be classified as “activists.”

Matt K. Lewis