The silver 2001 BMW 535i roared through Adams Morgan, occasionally screeching over the sidewalks as my accountant wrenched both hands from the wheel for another toke at the weed-pipe. "Gadzooks, man!" I shouted. "Can you keep it together for another fifteen miles, or at least outside the District limits?" We were halfway through our 35 mile journey from Bethesda to Falls Church, with enough dangerous narcotics to stun a grizzly bear in the trunk: We'd started with nine ounces of weed, six rocks of crack, a sugar jar full of blow, 36 vicodin tablets, a cage filled with live Bolivian arrow toads, and two jars of ketamine. Plus two quarts of Beefeater gin, a case of Schlitz malt liquor, and a four ounce ball of Afghan hash: Surely enough to get this pair of degenerate drug addicts to Fall's Church. After that what man could say?
It was Edmund Burke, the English statesman and philosopher of the Good Life, who asked, "What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?" In the Burkean ethos, freedom unconstrained by wisdom "is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint." I reflected that Burke's wisdom had never been constrained by a head full of mescaline, or a heart thumping on two tabs of amyl nitrate, so perhaps there were things the grand old man of the eighteenth century British polity did not know.
"Keep your God-damned mitts on the wheel!" I shouted at my accountant as the BMW lurched off of the sidewalk, narrowly missing a parking enforcement officer who stood gaping in confusion at my accountant's attempt to achieve manned space flight using only the power of internal combustion and a brain tripping on liquid sunshine. "Do you want to get us busted?" There was madness in his eyes, but I couldn't help looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant. And I was thinking, a) he got into the ketamine before we left Bethesda and b) we'll be staying overnight at the DC Correctional Treatment Facility for Narcotics Addicts. I put those thoughts out of my head, distracted by the mescaline-induced vision of my accountant vomiting up, one by one, the collected works of British conservative thought leader Michael Oakeshott, all bound in the finest red leather.
Oakeshott famously said that as civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. I believe that if our national political conversation were better informed by the spirit of Oakeshott, and less by the spirit of Manichaeism, ours would be a happier society.
But ours was not a happier society. This was fascist (or more correctly, corporatist) George W. Bush's America. Two years after the dawn of the new millennium Jesus was nowhere in sight, because the Feds were cracking down like sledgehammers on the ecstasy dealers. As senior political editor for the Weekly Standard, I had been sent to cover Bill Bennett's address on education policy at the annual convention of the Young Americans for Freedom. I was here to cover the story! And cover it I would, fueled by the finest mind altering products that 21st century biochemistry had to offer.
As we hit the Virginia line, I mused on the fine line that exists between a state of ordered liberty, in which government serves the needs of the majority, gently nudging the masses toward the higher pleasures, and the state of shocking, bestial depravity that was the passenger compartment of my accountant's BMW: open liquor bottles, a rear windshield plastered with pictures cut from the pages of Hustler and Love Bondage Fantasy! magazines, and in the vomit-drenched back seat, Kareem, a crack dealer we'd picked up in Anacostia, vainly trying to sleep off last night's festivities as the BMW careened from lane to lane like some cocaine-propelled mule train that never existed except in John Ford's wildest dreams.
"Kids today just can't handle their drugs," my accountant muttered through the shroud of opium that fogged his brain. "WHAT?!?" I shouted, cutting down the volume on the "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" compact disc my accountant had fished out of Kareem's backpack. And that's when it hit me, like an electro-plated dung truck: We were not living in John Ford's America. You see, the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a story not of rugged individualism, but to celebrate the notion of civic order. At his finest, Ford teaches us all about the concrete ways people build orderly neighborhoods, and how those neighborhoods bind together to form a nation. The West of Ford is a lawless and disordered place, requiring the prepoplitical virtues of a man who possesses the willingness to seek revenge, to mete out justice on his own. That kind of person hardly makes for an ordered polity. But, as this sort of classic western hero tames the West, he makes himself obsolete. Once the western towns have been pacified, there’s no need for his capacity for violence, nor for his righteous justice. As New York University film critic Sander Starr has pointed out, in the individual are planted the seeds of his own destruction. Only through the mediating agency of the panopticon state can this tendency toward self-destruction be averted and channeled into socially productive uses.
"That's some super-heavy shit," I croaked, seizing the weed-pipe from my accountant's lap. "How many miles til Falls Church?"
"We passed it five hours ago. We'll be pulling into Virginia Beach any minute now. Should be lotsa hookers in town this time of year. It's Bike Week."