Nice guys don’t always finish last. In recent years, the Nobel laureates in literature have been almost a rogues’ gallery — a gallery of anti-Americans, Communists, and other anti-democrats. There have been exceptions — but exceptions that seem, sadly, to prove the rule. Politics, particularly leftism, has seemed more important than literary quality.
A nadir was reached in 2005, I believe, with the selection of Harold Pinter. (That was a very bad year, all around: Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency won the peace prize. David Pryce-Jones and I wrote separate pieces for National Review on these wins: He took Pinter; I took ElBaradei and his agency.) Pinter was virtually drunk on anti-Americanism at the time. Indeed, he devoted his Nobel lecture to a condemnation of the United States, particularly its foreign policy since World War II. This was a lecture given in response to winning a literature prize, mind you. Pinter painted America as a criminal nation: one that had been “constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union,” but that was now free to commit its crimes unchecked.
Anyway, the winner this year — we have just heard — is Mario Vargas Llosa: a liberal democrat, even an advocate of a free economy. And, just incidentally — because what does literature matter in the face of almighty politics? — a fine writer. Note, too, that his son Alvaro is one of the most valuable libertarian writers and thinkers in America. He is also one of the clearest foes of Cuban Communism, the Che myth, and the rest of that nonsense.
The peace prize is announced tomorrow, from Oslo (all the other Nobels stem from Stockholm). For a post I did on this subject yesterday, go here. The problem with the Nobel peace and literature prizes is that you can’t write them off altogether: Just as you’re about to do so, or want to do so, someone worthy wins . . .
P.S. Not many people know this, but the Nobel prize in literature is supposed to go to “the person who shall have produced . . . the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” And that’s in “the preceding year.” I have quoted from Alfred Nobel’s will. I’ll have more to say on this subject later.