I’ve been catching up with the scholarly literature on Aaron Copland published since I last wrote about him for COMMENTARY. So far three full-length books have appeared, all of which are important—albeit in very different ways.
• In 1997, when I wrote “Fanfare for Aaron Copland,” discussing Copland’s hard-Left politics in public was widely regarded as a form of red-baiting. Even Howard Pollock, whose 1999 biography of Copland dealt more or less frankly with his close ties to the Communist party, was squirmily euphemistic when it came to such ultra-sensitive matters as his participation in the 1949 Waldorf Conference. Not so Elizabeth B. Crist, whose Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland During the Depression and War (Oxford, 253 pp., $35) is utterly forthright about Copland’s involvement in the Popular Front, an experience that she rightly sees as crucial to the making of such masterpieces as Appalachian Spring and the Third Symphony. The problem with Music for the Common Man is that like so many modern-day academics, Crist is starry-eyed to the point of idiocy about the Popular Front, and she’s also a bit of a jargonista to boot: “In Rodeo, the Cowgirl quite literally turns her back on typical displays of heterosexual romance and stereotypical, heteronormative feminine behavior.” Still, she’s done a first-rate job of relating Copland’s music to his politics, and her book is as illuminating as it is irritating.
Almost a month after Lee Siegel’s expansive, unfocused paean to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, has published her own astute (and devastating) review of the novel. (It’s worth noting that Siegel, in praising Mailer as a novelist, focused for the most part on Mailer’s works of “literary non-fiction.”) Franklin’s review skirts but does not point out explicitly the novel’s Manichean theology–a vision of the positive nature of evil that has consumed Mailer from the outset of his literary career. But both pieces are worth reading, especially for the sharp relief into which Franklin’s perspicacity casts Siegel’s confused tribute. And make sure to read John Gross’s review of The Castle in the Forest in the March issue of COMMENTARY.
Last week at the Cato Institute, I debated Michael Tanner and former Congressman Dick Armey, two stalwart libertarians. The occasion was the release of Tanner’s book Leviathan on the Right, one of the better distillations of the argument that George W. Bush has frittered away Reagan’s legacy, increased the size and scope of government, and betrayed conservative principles.
But Tanner’s argument is not persuasive. For one, the often-shrill complaints of a few years ago about runaway federal spending now seem overwrought. To everyone’s surprise, the size of the deficit has fallen dramatically over the past two years. This year the deficit will be 1.6 percent of the economy–a level lower than in 18 of the past 25 years. The federal budget is projected to be in surplus by 2012.