Tom Wolfe didn’t just provide us with enjoyable books to read, noble accomplishment as that is. He helped us understand the world. Wolfe’s insights made explicable the flaws in our fellow man which were hitherto puzzling. Most particularly he set us wise to the array of vanities and hypocrisies of that tribe loosely described as the Left.
The outstanding example was “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s”, an essay he wrote in 1970 for New York magazine. It gives an account of a fundraising party held by the composer Leonard Bernstein for the Black Panthers – an organisation which favoured revolutionary violence, “black power” and the overthrow of capitalism.
Taking part at a Manhattan apartment, we learn of this achingly fashionable and exclusive gathering. What a wonderful opportunity for the wealthy elite of the City to parade their social consciences and experience the frisson of Black Panther representatives wandering among the guests. One Panther “just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police” and “now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue.”
What, the other guests wonder, do the Panthers make of the “little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatball petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons”.
“I’ve never met a Panther—this is a first for me!” whispers one of the guests.