Mark Steyn appeared in Minneapolis as the featured speaker of the Center of the American Experiment’s fall briefing last night. The center’s site is here and its hot new issue of Thinking Minnesota has been posted online here. Let me say at the top that Mark Steyn recommends Katherine Kersten’s cover story on the rot in the Edina public school system.
Our own John Hinderaker is president of the center. John introduced the event’s sponsor, our friend Howard Root. Drawing on his ordeal with the criminal justice system, Howard introduced Mark.
This was a triumphant return. As he had done in 2014 at the same event, Mark turned in a bravura performance. Last time Mark appeared on an empty stage at Orchestra Hall. This time Mark appeared on the stage of the Guthrie’s more intimate Wurtele Thrust Theater in front of the set for Romeo and Juliet, of which Mark made “liberal” use, before a packed house.
Mark somehow managed to integrate references to the Guthrie’s misconceived production of Romeo and Juliet into his comments on recent events. The theme of Mark’s remarks was the possibly fatal stupidity of the culture. The Guthrie’s treatment of Romeo and Juliet in its current production proved a case in point. Here I think Mark made good use of John’s comments on the production.
Mark appeared on a somber day, following the massacre in Las Vegas late Sunday night. Mark opened his remarks with 15 minutes or so geared to the news of the day. He eloquently lamented the habit of our public eminences to retreat to their characteristic tropes on such occasions. Here is Hillary Clinton’s. If the question is mass murder, the answer is gun control and the perpetrator is the National Rifle Association (even if the trope is hypothetical and counterfactual).
Mark commented most powerfully on the lack of humanity demonstrated by now former CBS vice president and senior counsel Haylee Geftman-Gold in response to the massacre. (Paul Mirengoff provides the details in the adjacent post.) By contrast, Mark spoke of his own sympathy for the victims of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando even though he is not a practicing homosexual. “Or a nonpracticing one,” he helpfully added, despite the familiarity he acknowledged with the theatrical milieu (gesturing behind him toward the set of Romeo and Juliet).
Commenting on his own disclaimer of homosexuality, Mark paraphrased Hamlet’s judgment on his mother: “Methinks he doth protest too much.” I’m laughing even as I type it out.
Mark quoted Lord Moulton, an English judge who went on to hold during the Great War the enviable title of “Director-General of the Explosives Department.” Moulton divided society into three sectors, of which he considered the most important to be the “middle land” between law and absolute freedom. At one end, one is free to do anything; at the other, one is forbidden to do certain things; but in between lies the domain of manners, in which the individual has to be “trusted to obey self-imposed law.”
“In this domain,” wrote Moulton, “we act with greater or lesser freedom from constraint, on a continuum that extends from a consciousness of duty through a sense of what is required by public spirit to good form appropriate in a given situation.”
Mark’s remarks on the Las Vegas massacre said something original and true. Thinking them through would afford the benefit of a liberal education in politics. Providing such commentary on news only hours old is a task performed with a high degree of difficulty. Mark, however, made it look easy.
Moving on from the massacre, Mark touched on “The Cat in the Racist Hat.” Here the question of our possibly fatal cultural stupidity came to the forefront.
Last time around, I observed that what John Coltrane was to the saxophone, what Art Tatum was to the piano, Mark Steyn is to the English language applied to politics. He is an artist and improviser in a class of his own. But then you knew that.