BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Leonard, where did you get the title "Lonesome Rangers" for your book?
JOHN LEONARD, AUTHOR, "LONESOME RANGERS": Well, it showed up in one of the essays that I'd written, and I found that I was spending so much time thinking about thinkers who were somehow disenchanted or disaffiliated or dispossessed and wandering either their own intellectual frontier or off in some stepfather-land somewhere. And I just thought "Lonesome Rangers" -- they think so much about so much but have no home. And it seemed resonant.
LAMB:Any of this autobiographical? A "lonesome ranger" -- is that you?
LEONARD: Well, I'm not -- I'm not a sad case, in that sense. I do feel, perhaps like many adopted New Yorkers, that I never belonged anywhere else, and you can't be -- you know, I was born here in Washington, D.C. I grew up mostly in California. When I arrived in New York in 1967, it finally seemed that I'd come to a place where everybody was moving at my speed. And that made me happy because I always felt that everybody had been in slow-motion most of my life.
But you can't ever be said to be home, in a restful sense, in a city like New York. And I've never been able to settle in professionally, either. It's -- while books are my first love, I review television and movies and write social commentary and I don't think I would be happy doing any one of those things. The combination keeps me -- seems to be now the normal respiration of my intelligence and keeps me going. But it's not serene. It's not restful.
LAMB:How many years at "The New York Times" as a book reviewer?
LEONARD: Oh, I was 16 years at "The New York Times," and most of those were as a reviewer under my own byline. Five of them, I was the editor of the Sunday "Book Review" section, and that was in the middle. And I discovered that, you know, the logic in newspaper careers is that you make your reputation with your byline and then, if you advance at the newspaper, it's in an editorial position. And it's a perfectly decent logic. It's just that some of us are not editors. Some of us are not corporate people at all. Some of us do not, cannot worry about budgets and even personnel problems. And you -- I was still young enough, after five years of being an editor, to say, "But I'm not writing. I've lost all the music in my life, all the bouncing of words together that make me happy. I've got to get out." And I could.
LAMB:What year did you leave "The New York Times"?
LEONARD: I left "The New York Times" the end of 1982.
LAMB:What year did you join CBS?
LEONARD: In 1988, shortly before the election. In between, I did -- well, I've for years written television criticism for "New York" magazine. It's a very friendly place for me for a long time, almost 20 years. But in between major news organizations, like "The New York Times" and CBS, I reviewed books for National Public Radio, "Fresh Air," every week. I wrote a column for New York "Newsday" when there was a New York version of "Newsday," until the "Los Angeles Times" serial people killed it, wrote a weekly column there. And I wrote essays for the -- literary essays for "The Nation," so...
LAMB:Now, if you picked this book up and had to write a review of it for "The New York Times," what would you say about your own book? What would you say about your style?
LEONARD: I would say that the style has always -- is now and always has been a little too fancy, a little too in love with itself, a little too jet stream vapor trail, a little too given to lists that bounce off -- the items of which bounce off one another, a little too given to intellectual name-dropping with the hope that it will be a shortcut to something that I don't have to explain to a reader. These are the excesses.
I would hope the kindness of such a reviewer would be that there is music in the prose, that there is a basic generosity toward what other people are trying to do in the arts, that there is a genuine enthusiasm for interesting ideas, for ambitious endeavors, and that there is a joy in the life of the mind.
LAMB:Who was Lester Markel, and why do you write about him?
LEONARD: Lester Markel was the -- invented the Sunday "New York Times" as we all now know it. In other words, he invented all of those sections, "The Week in Review," the magazine, the stand-alone book review section, the travel section, this entire empire. "The New York Times" used to be divided under the publisher -- there was a Sunday paper and there was a daily paper. And they were not edited by the same people, and they were largely not written by the same people. Markel ran the Sunday fiefdom, and he ran it with a dictatorial hand.
I never worked for him. He had been forced into retirement shortly before I arrived at "The New York Times" in 1967 because anybody who creates -- I'm imagining this because I don't know. But anybody who creates something from the ground up and feels proprietary about it and loses power is going to be resented by those he injured who are now -- who've now taken over all the sections.
So by the time I became, in 1971, the editor of the Sunday book review, Lester Markel, who was still a vital man in his -- approaching, I guess, 70 at that time, maybe a little older -- had no place to sit, no place to visit in the Sunday "New York Times." He was not welcome in anybody's office, except mine, because he had done me no injury. And we used to sit, and I used to listen to the war stories and how he used to do it, and all of this. And this was fine. I've always enjoyed this, and you learn a lot. And it’s no -- I lose no body heat.
But then we got into, as I describe in this book, a difficult and queasy-making edge of what's scrupulous journalistically. And that is, he was writing a book. He was writing a book about his career in journalism and what he thought the lessons were of that career. He was having a little difficulty finding a publisher for that book. I decided to help out, which is, again, ambiguous behavior on the part of the editor of the Sunday book review. It's a powerful job. So when I'm calling publishers to see if they'd be interested in something, it's not an innocent call, and it can't be perceived as innocent. But I did, and we did achieve a worthy, dignified, essentially non-profit publisher for Markel's book.
And than I don't know if you want me to go on with the details of this, but it's a strange world, book reviewing. And when, at last, Markel's book was published, I had the complicated decision of sending it out for a review. And I needed somebody who would be uncorrupted by "The New York Times," uncorrupted by either malice or friendship, who would be fair to the book, positively and negatively. And the person I found was Ben Bagdikian, who was then a professor of journalism.
But between Bagdikian writing his review for me and the assignment of that review, he went to work for "The Washington Post," and Ben Bradlee at "The Washington Post" had a policy that nobody at "The Post" could write for "The Times." "The Times" had a policy that nobody at "The Times" could write for "The Post." It was kindergarten.
I said, "This assignment happened before." You know, "Can't we be men about this? I'm in a bind." And we went back and forth until I had to make a deal that I would review the book of Benjamin Bradlee's choice for "The Washington Post" if he allowed Bagdikian to review the Lester Markel book for me. And he -- that was yet to be determined. In the future, that would be determined.
And a couple of years later, it was determined. I was asked to review Sally Quinn's memoir of her days at CBS for "The Washington Post." And I thought this to be outrageous, and I refused. And ever since, I have tried to explain to people who seem to think that this is not very important or not very rinky-dink on its level, it's not a moral issue. But it is a moral issue.
And I don't know how to explain it except that when the people at the top have a basic contempt for the moral niceties or the ambiguities of who should be reviewing books and why they should be reviewing them, then that's going to drift all the way down. It's going to corrupt the process, and we're going to end up where we have ended up in this country now, where everything is reviewed according to its budget. That determines the news, and we don't believe anybody anymore.
We don't believe that editorial judgment that says "This book, this movie, this television program is the most important thing this week." That has been determined by forces beyond disinterested criticism. It's been determined by competing with the other fellow. It's been determined by the amount of the advertising budget. It's been determined by who owns you, in the ultimate corporate structure.
And therefore, the very signals of the culture that we depend to sort out 60,000 new books every year, all those television programs every -- how do we make people pay attention to the ones we care about if people cease to believe us? And they have. And we become one more blob on the Internet, you know, one more opinion. And it could be a good opinion, it could be a bad opinion, but nobody knows because we're no longer trusted.
LEONARD: We're no longer trusted because we've abused our function. And we've allowed ourselves to buy into it. I can say now -- I've been 14 years at CBS. I used to be very proud of what I did because it was unusual because I was interested in unusual things. I'm now embarrassed by some of the things that I do, and I'm going to stop.
And that's because instead of discovering, which is what I think criticism is mostly about, is seeing and reading and experiencing as much as you possibly can and saying, "Hey, this is good. This is new. This needs to be talked about so that other people will pay attention. Here's something unusual. Here's something valuable that will otherwise be ignored."
Instead of discovering the new in books and the new in television and the new -- I find that I'm in a new competitive environment in which nobody on television wants a television critic on television because you're going to be saying nice things about the competition. So they prefer you not say anything at all, even about them. This is true throughout television. There is no decent television criticism on television because they don't want to give the competition a break. So that's gone by the boards.
Nobody wants an unusual book that nobody has ever heard of, unless it's on C-SPAN, unless it's on the weekend. That's even better with the whole books thing, you want only the books that are already the best-selling books because those are the books that everybody else is reading and already talking about. I mean, I'm really sad that Oprah's no longer recommending books. I think this is a great loss for the culture, but it's kind of inevitable. We're having fewer and fewer books talked about, and those are the ones that have the biggest advertising budgets, and those are the ones that go into the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies.
And I end up, as a critic, for -- at least on "CBS Sunday Morning," doing nothing but going to Hollywood movies. And frankly, I'm not interested in what I have to say about "Spider-Man." Why should anybody else be interested? And I'm only reviewing "Spider-Man" because it's the movie of the week and everybody else is reviewing it. And if I didn't review it, I wouldn't be competing with the Sunday supplements, with the other magazines. So I end up reviewing "Spider-Man." I end up reviewing "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones." You know, I end up reviewing "8MM." I end up reviewing movies I wouldn't go to on my own.
And that is what the culture has become. It's become a competition of loud noises that determine the journalistic agenda, the cultural journalistic agenda, about which we opinionize and we are paid -- I've always been paid, and I've always been well paid because of the very jet-stream style that I would criticize myself for, my stylistic tricks. I make some noise and some firecrackers and some pyrotechnics. And my opinion almost doesn't matter, so long as my amusement value stays high. But inside, there's a decay. There's a decay that you notice and you say, "I'm not doing what I ought to be doing."
And part of that is a function of getting old. I'm 63 years old. I've been doing this a long time. I've had many, many, many opinions on many, many, many subjects. But that's not the way I feel if, say, the "New York Review of Books" asks me to read all of Richard Powers, and I've read only a couple of his novels -- and then write at whatever length I want about what I found there.
And then I rediscover why I did this to begin with, you know, why I cared so much about it, because here was somebody who was really, really smart and who could -- who not only deserved but could sustain however close attention was brought to his work. And this is a -- this is what criticism used to mean to me and what I intend to go out with it meaning to me.
LAMB:You said you weren't going to do this anymore. When do you plan on hanging up the spurs?
LEONARD: Well, we -- you know, we go back and forth and back and forth. I'm in the last year of a contract with CBS and, you know, maybe we'll revise the terms of what gets done, but I don't see it that way. And I'm not really blaming them. I mean, this is -- I have no place to go to do what it is I want to do. The environment itself has changed around me, and maybe it was a bizarre thing for this kind of criticism to be part of a program, to begin with.
When Shad Northshield started "CBS Sunday Morning," Jeff Greenfield was hired, was the first one hired to do the job that I later got, and it was specifically to review television -- you know, television that he liked. And it didn't matter if it was on ABC or NBC or CNN or wherever. Well, CNN wasn't there at that time, but -- and then he was succeeded by Ron Powers, and then I came along. And I've been there a very long time.
But as I say, at some point in the competitive thing, probably at the point that Fox stole a whole bunch of affiliates from CBS, along with professional football, CBS certainly stopped wanting to hear me say there was something nice to watch on Fox. And this is -- this kind of consideration and this kind of resentment and this kind of competitive drawing in and closing off and squeezing down is true across the board.
You know, I'm hardly saying that CBS is the single guilty party here. It's -- they're all the same.
LAMB:You started out very early writing for the "National Review," Bill Buckley's publication. And today you write for "The Nation."
LAMB:Could you possibly have gone from -- you know, a farther way in your thinking?
LEONARD: Well, the thinking wasn't so far. You have to -- I grew up in California...
LEONARD: ... as a -- Long Beach, California, as a -- and, you know, my mother was active in the Democratic Party. You know, I was a California liberal. I was the president of the Long Beach Young Democrats in high school. But when I was hired by Buckley in 1959, I was a college drop-out. I was working nights for United Press writing captions for photographs with a Tuesday-Wednesday weekend for $47.50 a week.
Buckley saw an article of mine about Greenwich Village in a sort of throwaway magazine -- no longer exists. And Buckley was hiring young writers with style. It helped that I had an Irish name and that I'd been on the "Harvard Crimson" -- these were credentials that he could see -- and that I had this -- that I was making fun of Greenwich Village.
But the fact of the matter is that these are the people that Buckley hired in the late '50s, as the magazine was just three or four years off the ground. He hired Garry Wills, who was a genuine conservative and who was radicalized by the Civil Rights movement and then Vietnam. He hired Joan Didion, who has certainly gone off the reservation so far as American foreign policy is concerned, although on social issues at home, she might still be called conservative. He hired Renata Adler. He hired Arlene Croce. I mean, he was hiring people without regard to their politics, and he was sure that the charismatics of his own personality would take care of their politics.
And he was -- to me he was offering $100 a week to learn the magazine business from the ground up. I mean, I took the stuff to the printer and -- you know, I did all the little things that in a small magazine teach you the business. And when I told him -- when he offered me this job, I was flabbergasted. And I said, "I think I have to discuss it with my fiancée." And he said, "Where's she?" And I said, "Well, she's a senior at Radcliffe." And he said, "Tell her it's `The New Republic,'" which then was a liberal magazine!
LEONARD: And I was sold because that was -- you know, that was the sense of humor. If he had a sense of humor, I could certainly find out what this was like. And I had a very good time. I met Whittaker Chambers. But I met James Burnham. I met Willmoore Kendall. I mean, you know, many of the doyens of the American right, which served me very well much later on, when I went to "The New York Times."
It served me -- when Harrison Salisbury started the op-ed page of "The Times," they came to me to say, "Who are the literate right-wingers? Who should we get writing for the op-ed page," the new op-ed page at "The Times." And it served me at "The Times" book review in finding reviewers who weren't from the same place, people like Guy Davenport, who were wonderful reviewers but whose politics were outside -- certainly were outside the liberal mainstream.
And Buckley remains a very good friend. And Victor Navasky's a friend equally, as old, going way back, and...
LAMB:Victor Navasky from "The Nation."
LEONARD: From "The Nation," and so that's -- you know, the politics there have always been more congenial. But Buckley is still -- as Murray Kempton -- the late Murray Kempton once said that if he only had one phone call to make from jail, it would be to Bill Buckley, and that's the one you would trust to get you out of jail. And I feel that too. The gift for friendship was extraordinary.
I mean, he helped get me hired at "The New York Times" when he was sure they wouldn't because I'd once worked for him. So he dug up an article I'd written for Victor Navasky, making fun of my working for "National Review," so that "The Times" could be sure that I wasn't a right-wing frother-at-the-mouth. This was very -- this was a gift of friendship.
LAMB:In this book, you have a bunch of articles that I guess have been written in other places.
LAMB:Four other place -- "New York Review of Books," "New York Times Book Review," "Newsday," "Tikkun."
LEONARD: Yes. Just one for "Tikkun" and...
LAMB:What is it?
LEONARD: "Tikkun" is the Jewish intellectual answer to "Commentary." "Tikkun" is the left-wing "Commentary." "Tikkun" is Peace now, when "Commentary" is Likud, insofar as Israeli politics would be concerned. The editor of "Tikkun" even now is agitating on behalf of Palestinian statehood, not perhaps as controversial a week ago as it is at the moment.
But they asked me to review Robert Stone's novel about Jerusalem, in which, oddly enough, the concept of "Tikkun," which is a religious Jewish -- Judaic religious concept, figures largely. And I'd written at length about Robert Stone elsewhere, so this was a natural thing for them to do. It did -- for a while there, though, I wondered about -- for a while there, I was invited to every conference of American Jewish intellectuals to think about Israel and I thought, "Well, I've come a long way for a lapsed Catholic." But you live in the New York literary world for long enough, and you become an honorary Jewish intellectual, so that was fine with me!
LAMB:You also had one in Salon.com, and I believe -- don't you have a relative who works there?
LEONARD: My son is the business and technology editor of Salon. We are all hoping that it survives, and it was -- it's certainly been a casualty of the dot-com bust, and they certainly live hand to mouth, with a very stripped-down staff. But they produce something that is to me genuinely interesting, and they passed the test of any magazine, whatever form it arrives in your head, is that they gave us a whole bunch of new writers that I hadn't seen before and have come to trust and depend on and check in on.
And they've created a weird kind of daily newspaper/magazine, and I -- my heart goes out to them because they're -- as they've had successive purges of the staff in order to cut expenses, everybody has had to work harder and harder and harder!
LEONARD: And Laura Miller, who's their New York editor but also handles all the books section, you know, now is writing most of the book section, as well as everything else she does. And I can just -- I can see the frazzle. But -- and I can hear it in my son's voice, Andrew, when I talk to him.
On the other hand -- you may have had this experience, I only had it once -- in our professional lives, if we're extremely lucky, there will be a period when we are working with colleagues who are roughly our age. They have our same interests. They're -- they have the same missionary zeal for whatever it is, whatever journalistic purpose or other purpose it is -- it may be. We're excited about creating something new, defining our own terms, seeing what happens, playing with it, changing it, seeing it grow, seeing people respond.
We tend to assume -- if we're in the middle of that happy small group of people doing something we care about, doing it as well as we think we can, we tend to assume that that will repeat itself the rest of our lives. This is what work ought to be like, after all. It ought to be that satisfying, that collegial. And then we discover that never again is it. For some lucky reason, there was a time.
When I became the editor of the book review, most of the editors were roughly my age. The previous editor had been there 27 years. And we all had changes that we thought the magazine desperately needed to make. We were all on each other's side. We made those changes. We had an enormous amount of fun. We learned a lot. We made mistakes. And then gradually, all of these people were hired for better jobs, you know, and they disappeared. And you woke up one day and said, "That community is gone, but there'll be other communities." Well, there wasn't, not for me.
For Andrew, for my son, Andrew, and the people at Salon, there may be other jobs and there may be other collegial experiences, but right now, this one absorbs everything they've got. And they love it, and they'll go down with the ship. And they may never be so lucky again.
LAMB:You mentioned before we started you have a daughter at Georgetown, teaching?
LEONARD: Yes. Yes.
LAMB:Are there just two kids in the family?
LEONARD: Yes. I have a stepdaughter in New York, who has been working for the Coalition for the Homeless. That's for my second -- she's from my second marriage. But yes, my two children -- Amy is the scholar of the family, and she's amazing. She -- this was a kid who in high school wrote all of her papers on Jim Morrison of the Doors, and she was a roadie in a rock band. She seemed to have very little overarching intellectual curiosity. But she went to Barnard, and every course she took exploded in her mind.
I taught at Columbia during the four years she was at Barnard so that I could see her for dinner every Monday night when I'd go in for a seminar course. And I watched this happen. You know, I watched this kid who watched television and listened to rock-and-roll become an intellectual and be adopted by the history department at Barnard College. They loved her, and they gave her the history prize.
And then she went to Wisconsin for an MA, and then she went to Berkeley for her Ph.D., and then she came out of Berkeley and she went around and she was interviewed at Georgetown. And you know how difficult jobs in the humanities are right now for a young person and -- but had her Ph.D. and she had apparently a great gift for teaching. I've not seen her teach, I've only heard about her teaching.
And they hired her, and she's just as -- she's ecstatic. I mean, she's in the middle of a vital university. And she teaches and she reads and she researches and she writes. And I look at that and I say, you know, somebody is -- one Leonard has become respectable!
LAMB:Now I want to talk about your writing style.
LAMB:We talked about it briefly earlier.
LAMB:And to do that, I've gone to a chapter, "Why Socialism Never Happened Here."
LAMB:Where is that - what's this from? Where was the original - did it originally appear?
LEONARD: That appeared in Salon. How do you say? In Salon? It was posted on Salon or whatever the terms are. So it was a - it was on the World Wide Web.
LAMB:What motivated you to write this?
LEONARD: Well, they asked me.
LAMB:About this subject?
LEONARD: They asked me to review the book. I'd reviewed a futurist and I'd reviewed Robert Putnam's book on Bowling Alone. These are the kinds of books -- Salon was asking me to review the kinds of books that nobody else asked me to review.
You know, sort of political books. I could review them for "The Nation," but "The Nation" has lots of people to review those kinds of books. And everybody else asks me to review literary books.
So I was pleased. And I was asked because, you know, I would have described myself, you know, as - how to put this? The other day, or a while ago, there was an article in "The New York Times" about Nadine Gordimer in South Africa. And she refused to describe herself as a liberal. She said, No, I'm a leftist. I'm a leftist. And that reminded me that some years ago on a public television conversation, Susan Sontag and Nadine Gordimer were talking about all kind of things. And Susan Sontag said, well the old categories of left and right don't mean anything anymore. Wouldn't you agree, Nadine?
And Nadine Gordimer looked at her and smiled in the way that she has. And she said, "Well, I don't know, Susan. But I think I still agree with Jean Paul Sartre, socialism is the horizon of the world." And I see this late at night and everything. I said, OK, socialism is the horizon. All the awful things that we know about the Soviet Union, all the feelings that have, those of us who would say we're on the left about socialism never having really been tried outside of a few Scandinavian initiatives that - to describe it as the horizon of the world seems so impossibly nostalgic, almost 19th century, but it also describes something which is unreachable.
It describes something that is - it's kind of a twilight notion. And without making fun of it, it reminds you, it reminds me as did thinking about this book, that people, a lot of the people who became socialists, and certainly a lot of the American socialists, people I know best, became socialists for all the right reasons.
They became socialists because they believed in social justice and in economic justice, in social and economic justice. And these are not things to be despised, no matter how the world changes, no matter how many tyrants, no matter how many Pol Pots, no matter how many Stalins, that doesn't wipe out the kind of politics that would be inspired by this kind of idealism is not much different from my parenting.
When my children are young, I want the best for them. I want to organize. I want everything that they do, and the way they proceed in the room to be fair. I want their values to be decent. I want all of these things.
All of these things were incorporated. In a political platform over a series of years, in the American socialist party, and then of course there were the sectarian split ups. And there were all those things that happened. And while it isn't fair to say that socialism's never happened anywhere, it is certainly fair to say that it never happened here.
And Seymour Martin Lipset, who's been a scholar of these things, and I took a course of his out of Berkeley when I was much younger, and I thought let's try to think about it. You know, let's try to think about it. And in a place like Salon, I don't have to be an associate professor of European labor movements in order to have an opinion on why socialism didn't happen here.
You know, I can read the book and I can think about it - I can think about it on my own.
LAMB:Before I read - we'll put it on the screen, so people can...
LEONARD: You’re threatening me.
LAMB:Yes, I know. But I just wanted to read this early part. In the book, it says, "this book is published by the New Press." And it says, "The New Press was established in 1990 as a not-for-profit alternative to the large commercial publishing houses currently dominating the book publishing industry.”
LAMB:When I hear you say you wrote for Salon.com or write for them, and then published in New Press, are we talking about somebody that doesn't make a lot of money off this stuff?
LEONARD: Oh, yes. No, you know, no. You make your money writing about television for "New York Magazine." You make your money reviewing "Spider-Man" for CBS. You do not make your money reviewing books about socialism for Salon, nor do you make your money by collecting all of those in a book published by the New Press.
But the New Press is run by André Schiffrin. And he used to run Pantheon, and was given the golden parachute at Pantheon. And all the editors left when he was asked by the Random House corporate, New House corporate, before New House sold, after the Germans, to reduce by two-thirds this list.
And it was a complicated and ambitious intellectual list. And he refused. And he was out.
So he got foundation money and everything to start the kind of publishing house that does a lot of educational materials. And I said, well, let's publish Studs Terkel, because André's always published Studs Terkel. So when André started that publishing house, I thought here's an honest place for me to go. I mean, this is - I'm not interested in - I don't need anymore money. I don't want a boat.
You know, my children are successfully launched in the world. But I want a place where I can bring books that consist of the best that I can do. And that will be distributed. It's distributed through Norton, to bookstores where readers come in who are interested in this kind of thing.
And some of these books -- this is the fourth of mine that André and the New Press have published. And some do better than others. The last one did quite well, because it looked like a tabloid, but it was the same essential contents.
But we all - nobody loses any money. And this is another whole story. This is, you know -- the fact of the matter is that until the last decade, maybe 15 years at a stretch, publishing in the United States, book publishing in the United States, would have averaged over all the book publishing for 85 years or so -- would have averaged maybe a 4 percent profit, 4 percent.
The people who went into publishing, the same as if people who went into newspapers, didn't go into it to make a lot of money. They had other reasons. They had other satisfactions in mind. But we didn't think about there was something wrong if we didn't make 10 percent or 12 percent. And now people are being asked to go 17, 24, 30 percent. And the business school people are coming in. And you wonder why they do something else, why are they going into the book business.
Book publishers used to be business to publish the books they wanted to publish, and to make sure they didn't lose money on them, you know, to keep the process going. And you can still publish a book and not lose money. You can publish anything you want, but you can't ever ordain a best-seller. That's more complicated.
And right now, newspapers, magazines, book publishers, everybody's got to have the 20 percent or 24 percent return on investment to the quarterly stockholders' dividend report.
And there's just - newspapers were never in business to make this kind of money. So what happens? Everybody gets bigger and bigger and bigger and is bought out with leveraged debt. And then people get fired because you've got too much overhead, and you're paying off your debt.
And you keep raising the amount of profit that you're supposed to make. And in an economy which ought to go back to socialism, you'd think an economy ought to be for the workers and the economy. I think that ought to be one of the things that it's about, the well-being of the people who make up your political economy. And - but it's not. It's not.
LAMB:Let me admit to you, I'll confess to you, that in order to read your book, I had to - I would have liked to have had you in the room with me, because I could have asked you to define a lot of these things. But I had a dictionary next to me, to help me understand. But I want to put it on the screen and I want to ask you to explain some of this, because this is your style.
LAMB:And anybody who’s heard you on Sunday morning sees the same style. Let's start. I just picked this paragraph.
LAMB:I'm on page 241. I'll start to read. And the audience can see it on the screen. "The big picture is that from the get-go, our core values glowed in the dark like Three Mile Island, an ethos of individualism," is it a Weltanschauung?
LEONARD: Weltanschauung, yes.
LAMB:Got close, "of antistatism." What's antistatism?
LAMB:What's a Weltanschauung?
LEONARD: Weltanschauung is a cultural spirit. It's - you know, you throw in the German to dazzle the credulous, but it's a great word: Weltanschauung. And it's always - it always means what a whole culture seems to feel and takes as it’s definition. So it's the world spirit of the culture.
And antistatism certainly is in the -- is wired in the American genetic code. It is suspicion of government on every level, but the bigger the government, the larger the suspicion.
LAMB:This isn't going to work well, by interrupting all the time -
LEONARD: Oh, OK.
LAMB:Me interrupting, but “and in a blank check from God.” Then I'll go on. "We sprang full blown from John Locke's higher brow, a natural born hegemony of bourgeois money grubbers." Let me just stop there.
LEONARD: Well, that's contracting a lot. One of the - after the horrors of the English Revolution, John Locke and all the other gentlemen of the English enlightenment got together and decided this kind of thing can never happen again. And we've got to write the sort of social contract in which property is respected, and nobody ever goes to any extreme.
But property rights were indispensable. So you look at English history from then on, it was a very good system for the people who already had the money or the land. For everybody else, the commons kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller, which is why you had so much trouble in the 19th century, even after the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th. I just kind of shoved those things into one gnomic phrase or clause.
LAMB:Then it gets a little complicated. Our viewers will be able to see on the screen "unscathed by medieval feudalism," but then there's a long parenthetical expression.
LAMB:"With its fixed classes of aristocracy and four Locke-tugging peasants." Actually, this is a short parenthetical situation: "exempt from 19th century Europe's ideological power grabbing fratricide." Stop there.
LAMB:Explain a little more of this?
LEONARD: Well, I'm - well, all of this is condensed, I don't see this as obscure. Certainly, we never had the fixed classes of European feudalism. So that should be perfectly clear that peasants the aristocracy and the, you know -- that tended to lead to violent revolutionary insurrections.
We didn't have that kind of problem. We were all essentially middle class, unless there were, of course -- there were some slaves.
Insofar as the next thing that has hold, 19th century ideological fratricide, there you had, you know, you had pitched battles. You had political parties that resorted to violent means. You had people taking over cities. You had the Paris commune. You had - you know, you had all of this stuff in which people were fighting to the death, for political programs. And we had none of that. We avoided all of that.
LAMB:Here in the United States?
LEONARD: In the United States, yes.
LAMB:Let me go back to that semicolon. And I'm going to read it all the way to the end. It'll be easier I think: "exempt from 19th century Europe's ideological power grab and fratricide,” parentheses there, “by virtue of early white male suffrage, lots of land, waves of immigrants to assume the lousiest jobs for the native born, upwardly mobilized themselves, and a ragtag diversity that undermined nascent class consciousness while permitting the merchant princelings to play workers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds against each other in a status scramble." Close paren.
LAMB:"And insulated from revolting developments, insurgencies, mutinies, jacqueries." By the way, what's that?
LEONARD: Jacquery is, goes back to the French Revolution and that's a populist revolt that gets out of hand. And they start - they stop paying attention to the leader. It's essentially a mob, but it began as something supposedly better than a mob.
LAMB:"Mutinies, jacqueries, even mugwumps and goo-goos." What's a goo-goo?
LEONARD: Goo-goo is good government. We used to have those in New York.
LAMB:By a political system.
LEONARD: And they used -- liberal Republicans were called goo-goos.
LAMB:"By a political system so partial to the status quo, that it's almost arteriosclerotic. I want to take all presidency, a fragmenting federalism a bought judiciary and a two-party incumbent protection system." There's a lot in that whole thing there.
LEONARD: Yes, there's a lot, but let's be fair to me: If you stop it clause by clause, I'm not complaining.
LAMB:By the way, I just want you to explain.
LEONARD: It's not so obscure. It's when you put them all together as briefly and in the short hand in the way I do, it becomes gnarly beyond our getting out of the woods.
And you have a limited amount of space to essentially address a subject that libraries have been written on. So every once in a while, if you're me, you take a deep breath, and say, screw it, I'm going to have some fun. I'm going to pile all this in. It will make sense if we comb it out, but I'm going to make sure that I've put in enough so that the people who really know this subject know that I paid attention, you know, that I'm aware of this factor. I'm aware of feudalism. I'm, you know, I'm aware of the role of a partisan political activity when it is allied with violence.
And I'm going to take my deep breath. And going to rush that through. And I'm going to get to the end of it. And I'm going to hope that I will be forgiven because it will sound sort of neat. It will sound like a fountain or a bunch of balloons going up, or fireworks, or whatever. You know, the real beginnings of the French Revolution -- this isn't true, but I like to think that it's true -- was the hot air balloon. When they first developed the wonderful hot air balloons, the king and the aristocracy lost control of their management of spectacle. Everybody could look up. Everybody could enjoy it. You suddenly had crowds who could participate in the excitement of an event. And they didn't have to have a ticket. They didn't have to belong.
And once you release that kind of excitement, anything could happen. The barriers are down.
I had the same feeling about writing sometimes, almost irrespective of what the subject is. So I'm writing about socialism, and this is very serious stuff. And their passionate disputation on all sides on this question. I'm trying to summarize why we were different. And just get carried away.
LAMB:Where do you write?
LEONARD: I write at home in a little office. I've owned a 13.5 foot wide brownstone on the Upper East Side of New York.
LEONARD: 13.5 feet wide, 50 feet deep. It's two rooms and a bathroom on each floor. And it's a little garden out back that's 13.5 feet wide and 50 feet deep. And there's a room in the front that's been my office since 1971. And I...
LAMB:Upper East Side?
LEONARD: Upper East Side, 78th and 3rd. 78th and 2nd Avenue. And I am -- I've gone through two behavioral revolutions. The second one yet to complete itself. But if it – that writing -- you know, 16 years ago, I almost died from booze. And so I had to give that up. And I had good advice from John Cheever before he died, who had to give up drinking. And he said that, you know, writers spend a lot of time saying that, you know, stop drinking and you lose access to the unconscious and all of the flow of all that stuff. And he says none of that is true. He says you sober up. He says your writing doesn't get any worse. It doesn't get any better. It just gets faster. You know, sober up. He was right.
Three and a half months ago, I had to have a - that was 16 years ago. Three and a half months ago I had to have a lung cancer operation. And there went the cigarettes. So I speak to you 31/2 months after this operation, having not put into my mouth and lungs 3,176 cigarettes from a pack and a half a day. So I seem to be clean. I seem to be all right, but I could never smoke again.
These have effects when you sit in your little room on East 78th Street, looking at your computer screen. As it is now, the effects are that you use a choreography of writing. And I write all the time. You know, and I produce an amazing amount of copy or always have. I'm not at the moment, because I love it. It's what I get a kick out of, is writing, reading and writing.
But your habits, especially your bad habits, are so deeply ingrained that it takes a much longer recovery process than no longer needing alcohol, no longer wanting nicotine. It takes a recovery process of the whole -- your whole performance style.
I don't know what to do when I look at transitions now. I don't know if I could have written - I couldn't right now write that paragraph you've been having wicked fun with, because I would have had to have sustained and revised, in order to sustain, a whole series of thoughts, which had to be distinguished one from the other, which didn't arise naturally. They were in a sequence that went in a particular direction. They all spoke to the same subject. And which had to be made amusing or to sound musical in the process. And so this is a piece - this is what I love doing, but it's what I have a great deal of difficulty doing during these recovery periods that one has, as one by one, one abandons one's license.
LAMB:By the way, did you ever finish college?
LEONARD: No. I'm a dropout of Harvard and Berkeley.
LAMB:And you said you married twice?
LAMB:Married -- who are you married to now?
LEONARD: I'm married to a Sue Leonard, who's a history teacher at the Burley School in New York, and has been for almost a quarter of a century. It's like Exeter, Andover. It's - I once kidded her. It's better - it's a wonderful, wonderful school, but I used to kid her that she taught internal contradictions to the daughters of the ruling class. They now have many more scholarship students, but the daughters of the ruling class are still around.
LAMB:How long have you been married to her?
LEONARD: 25 years.
LAMB:Now, why'd you quit drinking?
LEONARD: Well, cirrhosis, and also I seem to have a related sort of attack of nerve damage from the left eye on through the left arm or whatever. My father died an alcoholic, you know, age 44. And it - alcoholism runs in families, especially runs in Irish families.
And compounded by a career in journalism. I mean, it's as though it's a recipe. And then, it's still my fault. I did the drinking. And I, you know -- but so they told me I had six months to live. They got my attention.
LAMB:And when did you quit drinking?
LEONARD: The smoking.
LAMB:You've had how bad an operation was it?
LEONARD: Well, I always said that if something showed up on the chest x-ray, you know, then I had to take care of it. And something showed up. So it was a localized, what they first described as a spot, so as not to scare the hell out of you. And then, a growth or whatever. So it was localized in the right lung.
And we looked at it, and took the CAT scan. And while you don't know whether it's - at that point, whether it's cancer or not, it's probably. And there's no point in doing anything but going in there and having it taken out, and then finding that it's nowhere else. It's not in the lymph nodes. I mean, everybody's got a different cancer story.
And so they went in and they took it out. And it seems to be gone. And I go back in for the checkup. So that - and - but after that, you know, it doesn't matter how much I might like the nicotine kick. I had over three decades of doing this. That's -- you know, that's enough.
LAMB:Are you going to continue to write?
LEONARD: Well, that's all I do. That's all I do.
LAMB:You got a major book in you you want to do?
LEONARD: No. You know, I gave up writing novels a long time ago. As I said in one of the pieces in here, when I first - when I really started reviewing for "The Times," and I was reviewing books like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and, you know, and Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, all these books -- Don DeLillo -- you say these people really know that they want to do with a long book.
I was writing novels. And I published four of them because when I was brought up to be a writer was to write novels. That was the definition. But I had no burning - there's nothing I needed to communicate by a novel. And I discovered a gift for liking other people's - for making people want to read other people.
I want to write a memoir, like everybody else, but my memoir, unlike what we've been saying here, is not about alcoholism, nicotine addiction or whatever. It's the long march to the institutions. I mean, I have worked for Buckley. I've worked for "The Nation." I've worked for "The New York Times." I've worked for CBS.
You know, I was first a television columnist under a pseudonym for "LIFE," the old "LIFE" magazine, before it died for people's sins. I've worked for "Newsweek." You know, I want to put all that down and see if it makes any sense.
LAMB:Here's the cover of the book. We didn't get to an awful lot that's in book, although of the - some of your own life is in here. "Lonesome Rangers" is the title of this. Our guest has been John Leonard, who you can see on CBS Sunday Morning doing television criticism. Thank you.
LEONARD: Thank you for having me.
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