We’re Only Human

Andrew Ferguson, Commentary, October 2016.


The Kingdom of Speech is popular intellectual history of the most exhilarating kind. Its closest antecedents came along nearly 40 years ago, both of them also by Wolfe. The Painted Word laid waste the world of abstract art, and From Bauhaus to Our House attacked the absurdities of modernist architecture. In all three of these books, Wolfe lampoons the reigning orthodoxy of our intellectual elites—specialists, critics, experts, publicists, academics, nearly everyone who has an interest, professional or rooting, in the status quo, even as they try to persuade the rest of us of notions that we know are crazy. We’re supposed to think that the buildings of Bauhaus are lovely and functional and humane? That nonrepresentational painting is an aesthetic advance over traditional art? As smart as the smart guys and much more amiable, Wolfe has made himself the popularizer of common sense.