The fight over the recent production of The Death of Klinghoffer was an occasion for hope: not because of the yahoo-ism on the anti-Klinghoffer side of the dispute or the prim self-righteousness among John Adams’s defenders, but because we — Americans! — were having a fight about an opera. I always feel a little pang of envy when I read about riots breaking out after the premiere of some piece of music or drama in the 19th century; I do not generally care for riots — I might have made an exception for the current sadistic production of Sticks and Bones, the pretentious David Rabe twaddle marathon I endured last weekend, had there been any like-minded men in the audience — but it must have been something to have lived in a time when people took the performing arts seriously enough to break windows over them. But such flickers of hope for Western civilization as I might have harbored were ruined by this sentence written by David Kamp in the current issue of Vanity Fair, on the subject of British comedian Russell Brand’s verbal dust-up with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman: “The face-off cemented Brand’s profile as a legit political thinker, an eloquent voice of the dispossessed, a man worth taking seriously.”
Mr. Kamp concedes in the next sentence that he himself is surprised to be writing such things about Russell Brand, and then makes what he imagines to be an argument that the gentleman in question is indeed an important public intellectual.
Russell Brand is — let’s get this out of the way up front — a dope, a witless Hollywood poseur who having made himself a splendid fortune and having been cured of his various addictions now seeks new avenues of satisfaction. The progression is a common one among celebrities: To be paid handsomely is not enough, the sexual rewards are not enough, to be famous is not enough, to be celebrated is not enough — the hungry ego demands to be admired and respected, and the clown wants the world to know that underneath his makeup is the face of a Serious Man. Who wants to be Billy Joel when you can be Sting or Elvis Costello? Barbra Streisand, annoyed that President Clinton was neglecting her while lavishing attention on Sharon Stone, once complained: “She doesn’t know anything about policy.” Those were innocent times.
Mr. Brand says that he dreams of “a new socialist state” in which he, acknowledging his gargantuan self-importance, will be a “glamorous fusion of Christ and Che Guevara.” Mr. Kamp insists that Mr. Brand “has tapped into a visceral, widespread yearning for profound change.”
As evidence for this change, Mr. Kamp cites an offhand proposal from the new Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, for an international yoga day. I am a qualified admirer of Mr. Modi’s, and believe that he will be good for India, but I wonder if Mr. Kamp actually understands anything about the man he is talking about. Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party is the sort of organization that the sort of people who read Vanity Fair imagine, in their fever dreams, the Republican party to be: a right-wing political party based on the belief that the nation’s religious identity and its national identity are one. It is in effect the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a fascist organization whose members march around in Roderick Spode outfits and organize violence against members of religious minorities. (One of their adherents was the man who assassinated Mohandas Gandhi.) There is nothing quite like it in American politics. But everybody loves yoga — which is mainly a 20th-century Anglo-American invention having almost nothing to do with the Hindu tradition. What we call yoga is mainly a form of Western calisthenics that, like Mr. Modi’s political party, has its real roots in Prussia, its sprinkling of Indian mysticism mainly a marketing tool. Mr. Modi has not seen his wife in decades (it is a matter of some dispute whether he took a vow of celibacy as an RSS member), and when he speaks of spiritual discipline, it is safe to assume that he means something rather different from what your average soccer mom sweating it out in a Bikram class has in mind.
Mr. Brand does not know very much about this sort of thing, despite his being precisely the sort of dope who goes on and on about yoga and despite his having done a series of performances purportedly devoted in part to discussing the career of Mohandas Gandhi, along with Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Jesus.
Mr. Brand is fond of having himself depicted as Guevara, a figure for whom he shares the daft enthusiasm of many members of his generation. He frets that Guevara was “a bit of a homophobe,” but insists that “we need only glance at Che to know that that is what a leader should look like,” i.e., a bit like Russell Brand. Guevara was a mass murderer who shot people for amusement. The cause in which he fought was the cause of gulags and murder. There are today, at this moment, thousands of political prisoners being tortured in prisons that Guevara helped to establish, and millions foundering in the totalitarian police state he helped to found off the coast of Florida. But . . . sure, great hair.
Mohandas Gandhi and Malcolm X wrote books; perhaps Mr. Brand has read them, though he shows no sign of having understood them. Jesus had a famous book written about him, the subtleties of which consistently elude fashionable leftists such as Mr. Brand. Che Guevara was a thug associated with a political philosophy, one that Mr. Brand purports to advocate — socialism.
And it is here that Mr. Brand’s shallowness, and Mr. Kamp’s equally shallow evaluation, do a public disservice. Mr. Kamp, a writer capable of slipping the barbarism “advocate for” into the pages of Vanity Fair, wonders at his subject’s facility with language, at his charisma, and his physicality. But he never gives a moment’s serious thought to the thing that he is saying we should be thinking seriously about, that being Russell Brand’s political views, which are the equivalent of flat-Earth cosmology, vaccine trutherism, and conspiracy theories about the cabal of reptilian aliens that secretly runs the world. Socialism is not a series of statements about how the world should be; rather, it is a series of statements about how the world is, and those statements are false. Socialism requires one to believe that our methods of economic production are simple enough to be comprehended by human intelligences and managed by political bureaucracies. They are not. This is not a philosophical dispute; it’s a math problem, and socialism requires that 2 + 2 = 5, when it doesn’t. This is a fact that has been known for a century — a fact that was taken seriously by the Soviets, who understood better than anybody the defects of socialism, which they attempted to overcome through, among other means, computer modeling, the so-called cybernetics program that was intended to give Moscow total situational awareness of Soviet economic activity.
Thinking is hard. Watching Mr. Brand offer the world a big, dopey smile while insisting that “communism . . . just means sharing,” is easy, if you are inclined toward beef-witted sentimentality, and if you ignore the 100 million corpses stacked up in that sorry cause. Mr. Brand, who confesses that he is fond of Dior boots, is an enemy of every good thing that civilization has produced, high-end footwear included. But he is not intelligent enough to understand that. And neither, apparently, is Vanity Fair.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article misidentified the author of the article discussed. David Bailey was the photographer; David Kamp was the writer.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.