“Murray, from what I can tell, is the latest manifestation of what Tom Wolfe once labeled ‘The Mid-Atlantic Man,’ i.e., the foppish Englishman who makes a generous living off the Americans he’s bamboozled into thinking he’s brilliant.”—Juvenal Early
By Juvenal Early
So, what in the Sam Hill is going on over at Chronicles Magazine?
The June issue features back-page gossip columnist (and reputed Moneybags) Taki extolling the virtues of his friend Douglas Murray’s latest book, The War on the West (another unoriginal title to add to the Murray canon; here’s the first, also extolled by Chronicles).
Though math geek John Derbyshire lamented the book’s lack of numbers and graphs, and said it had nothing new to offer, Taki terms it a “dozey.” I assume he meant doozy; dozey sounds like a nighttime sleep-aid.
But, but, but. Wasn’t it only back in January that Murray called out Chronicles Wunderkind Pedro Gonzalez for anti-semitism? And haven’t there been a dearth of Gonzalez appearances in the last few months on Tucker Carlson Tonight? And didn’t Chronicles call out the heavy peashooters in counterattack to the bitchy Brit? In short, hadn’t Murray’s name become persona non grata in the halls of the Charlemagne Institute (publisher of Chronicles)?
Let me back up a little and give some context.
It starts with Tucker, where else? If you were following his show with any degree of regularity over the past few years, you no doubt became acquainted with Douglas Murray and Pedro Gonzalez, two of Tuck’s go-to guys, when it comes to having opinions on politics and culture. Tucker has even anointed them (unjustly we think) as public intellectuals in extended gingham-shirt interviews on his FoxNation streaming show.
Pedro writes for several outlets, principally for Chronicles, where he’s an editor and also their current Wonder Boy. Though not without talent, he has a track record of expropriating the ideas of others without giving them credit.
Murray, from what I can tell, is the latest manifestation of what Tom Wolfe once labeled “The Mid-Atlantic Man,” i.e., the foppish Englishman who makes a generous living off the Americans he’s bamboozled into thinking he’s brilliant. With aspirations to be the latest Roger Scruton, if not Michael Oakeshott, Doug’s ended up being “Con-Oink’s” House Poofter. Not bad work, if you can get it. Seems like all the Fox hosts are calling on him now. Barely-a-Blog and the “Hard Truth” Podcast have both devoted column space and air time to Murray’s sins. (Also here and here.)
So, when Murray wrote his hit piece on Bari Weiss’s Substack page, maybe he didn’t know that he was castigating a fellow Tucker-bro. Or maybe he did, and that’s the whole point. It’s dog eat dog in what currently passes for America’s conservative intellectual battlefield.
Enter Taki and his literal PR job on behalf of Douglas Murray. Taki’s June 2022 “Under the Black Flag” column begins: “Douglas Murray’s book The War on the West has just been published, and it’s a dozey [sic]. He is a friend and fellow columnist in the London Spectator, the oldest magazine in the English-speaking world.”
What are we to think? Maybe it’s a sign of health that a polemical magazine offers differing opinions. Or maybe it was just an oversight that it made it to print. Or maybe the deep pockets of which Taki’s always reminding us had something to do with it. By all reports, Chronicles has survived hand-to-mouth since Leopold Tyrmand founded it. Maybe they’re not anxious to upset an important patron. Just spitballing here.
As for Taki’s literary output, it is gossip, you know, albeit, high-class gossip, as the brilliant writer and jet-set doyenne Barbara Amiel says in her memoirs. (Hmm. Pot. Kettle. Black?) He was, she said, maybe capable of better things: “…really, had he put his mind to it, he could have been a significant writer.” Certainly, he was always invoking his heroes—Hemingway and Mailer come to mind—enough that you knew he had more than a passing acquaintance with the best writers of the 20th Century. You get the idea that he aspired to that level.
But perhaps all that money and all those yachts and all those women and all that tennis and all that judo and all that vodka sapped his talent, left him with no more than his platform at the Spectator—or wherever else he could find an eager publisher.
Indeed, the proper term for what Taki became might be writer manqué.
So where did he come by his affinity for Murray?
Well, if you’ve aspired to greatness, but fallen short, the next best thing is to find yourself in the company of the best available option. Which is often just a flavor of the month, like Dougie-boy. For Murray’s part, I imagine he likes having someone colorful picking-up the checks.
As previously mentioned, Taki is always reminding us of his colorfulness and his ability to pick-up checks. Then there’s the fortune, yachts, the houses, the women—the “candyfloss,” in the words of Barbara Amiel (before she turned around and squandered her talent on Conrad and the high-life).
Yes, money, Taki does have. He’s been telling us for well over 40 years how much better his life is than ours. He’ll get down and slum with the people, now and then, but don’t try to insinuate yourself into his world. A friend was once at conference featuring Taki. He was part of a group that surrounded Taki at a cocktail reception. Taki was holding forth on Gstaad, the ski retreat in Switzerland where he owns a house. My friend, upper middle class, well-read, well-traveled, a first-rate financial analyst, mentioned that he’d been in Gstaad recently, and had been very impressed with the place’s beauty. Taki sized him up, and replied dismissively: “you were never in Gstaad.” Why’d he do that? Push comes to shove, he’s probably just a snob at heart
And he’s just the kind of white whale a bloke like Murray dreams of hooking. Murray’s a punch-down kinda guy, or at least that’s the impression I have. He’ll suck up to who he has to, but I can’t see him sharing a pint with Joe Sixpack. A custom fit for the Greek Boy? Snobs of a feather? Just asking.
“Juvenal Early” is a contributor to Barely A Blog. His 2020 piece, “The Dissident Right Has An Idiocracy Problem,” created quite a buzz.
When Juvenal approached me about the above piece, I applauded his instincts. Taki is, after all, quoted in Into The Cannibal’s Pot (p.18), enthusing over South Africa being “the greatest triumph of chatter over machine-gun clatter. It’s not perfect, and crime is at an all-time high in South African cities,” babbled Taki, “but at least the massacres are a thing of the past and life goes on much better than before.”
The loss of my homeland lauded … The Nasionale Party trashed by the so-called Smart Set.
Once upon a time, the epistolary fluff ensconced at The American Conservative was detonated daily by the “pugnacious” Lawrence Auster. When Auster died, a void opened up. The “typically shapeless pieces” coming out of paleoconservative quarters, at once “weird and solipsistic”—Auster’s delicious descriptions—have escaped scrutiny. Going by the pen name “Juvenal Early,” a disillusioned former donor to Chronicles has stepped up to clear the same “shapeless” thickets once hacked down to size by Lawrence Auster.
Thank you, Mrs. Mercer, as always, for bringing Juvenal’s commentary to your readers. He’s a fitting complement to your own trenchant prose.
I can safely say that Taki’s writings have never elicited any strong estimation on my part. His personal brand of flighty gossip recalls too immediately his parvenu playboy lifestyle. For all his opposition to various liberal shibboleths, he is the consummate cosmopolitan socialite whose writing emanates from nowhere in particular, and so his affected praise for the rooted and the traditional rarely rises above the merely aesthetic. His solicitude for Murray eminently makes sense, since for both of them conservatism is primarily a style or social pose.
Gonzalez strikes me as a promising young intellect, though I wonder sometimes if he is too concerned with the role of student and interpreter of the late Sam Francis to develop his own independent critique.
Perceptive observation: Paying constant homage to the by-gones is an assignment meted out regularly by the Old Boys at Chronicles. You are not supposed to forge your own way. Luckily, my assignment was Mencken, who is the only American writer in whose tradition I follow.
Thank you for your perceptive comments, Nicholas. It sounds like your experience of Taki parallels my own. Perhaps if he’d take us aboard his yacht for a week, we’d change our tune, eh? Not that someone like Taki needs the moolah, but I think there are a number of conservative pundits who started out on the left & turned to the right for career reasons. National Review was hiring and the New Republic was full up. David Brooks & David Frum come to mind. Of course, now that NR is a lefty mag, they can all come out of the closet and show their true colors.