THE TOTAL PASSION FOR THE TOTAL HEIGHT
By Lindsay Perigo
Reviewed by Nicholas Dykes
An excellent book. I do enjoy having something to praise for once. I’d give it a five star rating any day.
In 1950, the English novelist Margery Allingham published a book of novellas entitled Take Two at Bedtime. That might well have been an alternative title for Lindsay Perigo’s book. For this collection of mostly short articles is a welcome antidote for the gloom and doom of our days, perfect for the bedside table, virtually guaranteed to send one off to sleep with a smile on one’s lips.
For those who don’t know of him, Lindsay Perigo is a New Zealand journalist who walked out of a long-term and very lucrative job as a TV host at his country’s main television station back in the 1990s saying its news and current affairs coverage was “braindead.” Since then he has, amongst other things, founded a long-running libertarian journal, The Free Radical; hosted “The Politically Incorrect Show” on radio, and set up Sense of Life Objectivists – SOLO – a website forum for independent-minded admirers of the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand, of whom ‘Linz’ is probably the most passionate (his title is a quote from Rand). Lindsay was also instrumental in establishing Libertarianz, the New Zealand libertarian political party.
The hallmark of his book (highly unusual in the over-serious world of Objectivism) is provocative fun. Very well-written, always entertaining, and often thought-provoking, Total Passion scans the modern world with the eye of a Voltaire; subjecting the pretentious in politics, religion, art and academia to some of the most scathing invective I’ve ever read. Political correctness in any form is a particular target: ‘pomowankers’ is how Lindsay labels its practitioners. Such original coinages are typical of his style: religion is “goblinism”; man-made global warming is “Apocalypsia”; US President Obama is “Obamarx”; Prokofiev is “Cacofiev”, and so on.
The book grabbed me from the start. In Chapter 1, under “NIOF Reconsidered” Lindsay suggests that libertarians should suspend their principle of the Non-Initiation of Force in order to rid the world of vegetarians, teetotallers, and especially academics, who “flatulate with footnotes, quiver with equivocation, warble with waffle, simper with sophistry, vibrate with verbosity, pulsate with pomposity” – I laughed and laughed. Shortly afterwards, in “Sunset …. or Dawn?”, a collection of fanmail from his readers and listeners, some of the sentiments were so moving I found tears coming to my eyes. An author who can make a new reader both laugh and cry in his first chapter is surely doing something right.
There is laughter to be had throughout. One of my favourite articles was “The Penis Tax,” a mock proposal ghost-written by Linz for Jim Anderton, New Zealand’s then-Minister for Economic Development(‘Neanderton’ Linz calls him), to tax penises – which have hitherto escaped tax because they're “either unemployed or hard up.” Total Passion also contains one of the wittiest jibes ever directed at a fellow intellectual. I won’t spoil things by naming the person or giving it away, but the dig still makes me laugh every time I think of it.
Creative himself, Linz greatly admires the bons mots of others. Total Passion abounds in good quotes, always pointed, often funny. E.g. from Voltaire – “those who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities.” Or, from Cicero – “politicians are not born, they are excreted.” An early article, “The Age of Crap”, a speech delivered to a group of financial advisors in 2003, abounds in such quotations; e.g., this one from P.J. O’Rourke – “giving money and power to government is like giving whisky and car keys to teenage boys.” Lindsay’s prose can be very eloquent too, which adds to one’s pleasure. For instance, “… in the heat of a moment as heated as only a heated Randian moment can be.”
Although the book is generally critical in its approach, there are passages of unstinted praise for those Linz admires, such as Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Mario Lanza; and for things he loves, particularly classical Romantic music which he contrasts strongly with the “headbanging caterwauling” of recent rock and roll, and with ‘rap’ – which is not music at all. Similarly, while the essays and articles are usually abrasively funny, there are serious passages where Linz takes apart the philosophies of thinkers like Neitzsche and Kant. In another thoughtful moment, Lindsay suggests that Objectivists abandon the word “selfishness” to the altruists, and instead defend “selffulness”. This is indeed intriguing. It connotes fulfillment. I like it.
All that said, Total Passion is not without problems, albeit minor ones. The work is largely, though certainly not exclusively, concerned with the politics and culture of New Zealand, a country of which I, and I suspect most potential readers, know little (aside from earthquakes, the All Blacks and superb white wines). Hence, from the beginning, we are reading diatribes against a ‘Jenny Shipley’ and a ‘Winston Peters’ etc, people of whom one has never heard. Likewise, Linz employs acronyms such as KASS, RACH and NEM; Maori words like ‘tengata whenua’ and ‘kia ora’, and slang words like ‘hoon’ which are unintelligible to the uninformed. The problem is partly overcome by a ‘Glossary of Linzisms’ at the end, to which one can refer, but it might have been better to put that at the beginning. [Noted, and will be done -- Linz]
My criticism is however mitigated by the discovery that NZ suffers from exactly the same ailments as modern Britain, Canada and the US: the dumbing down of education; youth unable to speak English properly; increasing swathes of the population turned into “airheads” and “sheeple”; ever more intrusive government; minorities treated as hard-done-by and mollicoddled at taxpayer expense, and government support for ludicrous poseurs pretending to be artists.
Another slight difficulty stems from the wide time frame of the selection: the articles cover events over thirty years. Sometimes it’s hard to recall them. At others one has a sense of, well, 'nuff said.
Technically too, I would have preferred some references. One can get away without them in journalism but it’s a different story in a book. When Linz cites someone like philosopher Brian Magee saying something interesting, the scholar in me wants to know where he said it.
I agree in advance that what follows is irrelevant to appreciation of his book, but in several places I found myself disagreeing with Lindsay Perigo. I’m just as much a libertarian and admirer of Rand as he is, but when he dismisses anarchism as the “arbitrary” my hackles rise. Modern libertarian rational anarchism is a well-argued case based on sound philosophical principles and a mass of evidence from history and anthropology. It is rather Lindsay’s ‘limited government’ position which is arbitrary. It is shot through with logical problems. Not least of which is the initiation of force entailed in a government ‘monopoly on the use of force’ as proposed by Ayn Rand, and that’s not to speak of the several other serious logical flaws in her critique of anarchism. For those interested in a thorough discussion of all this, see my own book Old Nick’s Guide to Happiness  (2008) which is also available on Kindle.
I also disagree with Linz’s derivation of individual rights. He states that we have rights because we have reason and reason cannot function without them. While this is true, it is inadequate. A much more robust view is that rights (and egoism) stem rather from the fact that human beings are ends in themselves. I developed this argument in the 1990s and was pleased to discover later that the American philosopher Eric Mack had arrived independently at an identical conclusion. Again, for amplification, see my book.
A third disagreement is over The Lord of the Rings, whose popularity Linz dismisses as “preposterous”. I think he is wrong here. It’s a good book made into a good film. I grant that fairy stories are hardly likely to appeal to a hard-nosed journalist, but if you have the knack of fitting yourself into a writer’s fantasy, a lot of entertainment is to be had. But the work has to be very good to bring that about. Tolkein’s did it for me. And I’d much rather live in his fantasy than in the enforced mythological world of pomowankers, phoney artists and Apocalypsia, or “unreality” as Linz calls it.
But enough of criticism. The Total Passion for the Total Height ends with a rousing valedictory address in which we are urged never to surrender the dreams of our youth. I never have. Linz never has. Okay, so we will not see a new golden age in our lifetimes, but hopefully Lindsay Perigo’s passionate prose and incisive wit will inspire a new generation of freedom lovers to carry us towards it – much like his heroine Ayn Rand did fifty years ago and as he himself has been doing for the last thirty. Well done Linz!
I hope a lot of people buy the book .