The Corner

Culture

Anton Chekhov Looks at America in 2020

Going through the major plays of Anton Chekhov — a ringer for our friend Charlie Cooke, by the way, and at 6’2″ nearly as tall as C.C.W.C. — I was struck like many others before me by the diagnostic skills of the country doctor. But I believe I am the first to note that the traits and quirks he limned so skillfully have been very much in the forefront of American culture in the summer of 2020, a moment not unlike the one foreseen in Three Sisters (1901), when one character exclaims, “A new age is dawning, the people are marching on us all, a powerful, health-giving storm is gathering, it is drawing near, soon it will be upon us, and it will drive away laziness, indifference, the prejudice against labor, and rotten dullness from our society.” Race was not an issue in Chekhov’s milieu but America’s present racial obsession is downstream, I think, from this recurrent bourgeois yearning to see its own class receive a good sound thwacking for its perceived sins. The successors of “Chekhov’s cast of the depressed, the dissipated, and the deceived,” I write in the new issue of The New Criterion, today can be found flagellating themselves in Chevy Chase or Maplewood. I argue that:

In America’s poshest zip codes, which in most cases are among our most resolutely progressive ones, there is a palpable attraction to Tuzenbach’s claim that “rotten dullness” afflicts our society and that some destruction would therefore be salutary. Because of the alleged corruption of society, today’s elites play-act being “allies” of the supposedly oppressed classes on social media, repeating nihilistic slogans, offering to bail out criminal activists, amplifying ludicrous calls to defund or disband the police, downplaying the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of punishment inflicted on cities from coast to coast this summer, and, above all, insisting that the real problem is Donald Trump.

The full essay can be read here.