Set aside the anti-government bromides that could have been ripped from a random page of National Review, where Vance is a regular contributor. There is a more sinister thesis at work here, one that dovetails with many liberal views of Appalachia and its problems. Vance assures readers that an emphasis on Appalachia’s economic insecurity is “incomplete” without a critical examination of its culture. His great takeaway from life in America’s underclass is: Pull up those bootstraps. Don’t question elites. Don’t ask if they erred by granting people mortgages and lines of credit they couldn’t afford to repay. Don’t call it what it is—corporate deception—or admit that it plunged this country into one of the worst economic crises it’s ever experienced.
No wonder Peter Thiel, the almost comically evil Silicon Valley libertarian, endorsed the book. (Vance also works for Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management.) The question is why so many liberals are doing the same.
I’ve been one of those liberals, pushing this book and some of the ideologies within it. I think this piece may flatten out the depth a bit, but I felt it necessary to post it, since it is one of the few on-the-contrary piece I’ve seen about what has otherwise been a universally praised book.
I think one of the reasons liberals have flocked to it is because it’s written in a “language” people unfamiliar with the terrain can understand, while acting as a door into that terrain, and because of that, I still think it is worthy of reading.