The Magazine

She's Come Undone

From Gore guru to pretty paranoid.

Oct 20, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 06 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"Are ordinary people smart enough to run America? The data is in. The answer is yes." The American people are currently apathetic and disengaged, Wolf says, because they "intuit" a maze around them "and do not want to spend their lives walking around with fake shiny keys fumbling with doors that will never open."

Hence one of the nuttier ideas Wolf endorses in Give Me Liberty, one that has nothing to do with conspiracies. Wolf is enthused about the idea of a National Issues Day, a day (or perhaps two) where many things would be debated nationwide but nothing decided. This would "mean substance, not trivia," she writes, "since local people are unlikely to put up with one another wasting time on boxers versus briefs."

Elsewhere in the book she finds evidence for her belief in the wonder-working power of ordinary citizen engagement when she meets and talks to a "real live pro-lifer" for the first time in her long career: "I had never entertained the remotest notion that a pro-life activist might have come to her or his position through motives recognizable to me--through sincere concern for poor women, or women's well-being, or for the sincere well-being of children as a whole," she writes.

Life outside of cable news, Wolf's previous natural habitat, is indeed a marginally better place. But boxers versus briefs? That's never going to go away.

In 2006, Wolf was in therapy for writers block. During one session she says she inhabited the persona of a 13-year-old boy and saw Jesus. "I absolutely believe in divine providence now, absolutely believe God totally cares about every single one of us intimately," she told Glasgow's Sunday Herald. These days, Wolf can't seem to stop writing. Her previous book, The End of America, which chronicles the "fascist shift" we are now experiencing in the United States, came out barely a year ago. It looks as if her faith has been rewarded.

Wolf has always sensed powerful unseen forces pressing in on her--the male gaze; the patriarchy; the state; in one memorable instance, the groping hands of Yale éminence grise Harold Bloom; and now Jesus. The democracy thieves (whoever they are) join this cast in a book much like her previous efforts: confusingly argued, historically illiterate, and yet strangely mesmerizing.

"The web sites that are supposed to teach citizens how to participate, how to lead, are in Latin, you know?" she said at Borders. "And I, like, speak the vernacular." And on the written page she does--fluently.
After reading her colorful, rambling, paranoid account of her wrestling match with modern American democracy, the optimist in me can't help but wonder: If Naomi Wolf finds it almost impossible to successfully stage a rally or run for office, perhaps the system is working pretty well after all.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is associate editor of Reason.