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Mr. Amis Responds

The writer Kingsley Amis on William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line in 1970 (Hoover Institution via YouTube)

Today on the homepage, I have a piece called “An Ordeal in Prague.” What ordeal is that? Ondrej Kolar, a district mayor in the city, presided over the removal of a monument to a Soviet marshal. Then all hell broke loose. Kolar required round-the-clock police protection, and he was even moved into hiding for a while. Czech security officials detected threats to his life from the Russian government. Also from Czechs, in sympathy with that government.

This is a horrible story, and emblematic of the drama of Europe today (and in other periods, too).

On Friday, I had an Impromptus column that was unusually — blunt, and tart. Some liked it, some didn’t (as is always the case). There was mail saying, in essence, “Way to go, man! I like Jay unleashed.” There was also a note from a longtime reader and correspondent who told me he had just turned 83. At the end of his note, he said this: “. . . your Impromptus column was not up to your own high standards of writing. My opinion, only.”

I thought of Kingsley Amis, though I value the correspondent I have quoted, and appreciated his note. David Pryce-Jones told me the following story many years ago.

One day, Amis was lunching at one of the clubs in London. A woman came by and said, “Mr. Amis, I have just read your latest book.” Brightening, Amis said, “Yes?” The lady continued, “I’m an admirer of yours, but I must say that your new book is not up to your usual high standard.”

Now, Amis was basically the quickest, wittiest man in the world. His verbal skills were unsurpassed. He could have answered in a thousand ways. What happened?

Gripping the table, veins bulging, he said, “F*** you!”

In that Friday column of mine, I had a section on freedom versus fairness, or “fairness.” In any political contest between freedom and fairness, bet on fairness. Bet it all.

A reader of ours sent me a quotation from Sallust, the Roman historian and politician. What you could say at book length — and many have — Sallust disposed of in a couple of simple sentences: “Only a few prefer liberty. The majority seek nothing more than fair masters.”

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