Home / General / “Not suffering like starving 19th-century Norwegian immigrants”

“Not suffering like starving 19th-century Norwegian immigrants”


That, according to Victor Davis Hanson, is the contemporary version of “the good life.” From a man who compulsively reminds anyone in earshot that “for 20 years I taught classics,” defining “the good life” as the absence of suffering is surprising. I always thought it had something to do with one of those Greek words Hanson loves so much—but I only studied classics for a couple semesters as an undergraduate and am probably misremembering. That said, Hanson’s certainly correct about one thing: no one suffers quite as poignantly as white people. It’s no coincidence that his first complaint about people who complain about class is:

Meanwhile we see the “poor” near rioting over buying the first few pairs of Michael Jordan $200 sneakers[.]

His argument is entirely about class. Consider the impoverished people at one of those near-riots:

Not a single one of them looks to be a starving Norwegian. That’s because Hanson is talking about class here:

In the car today, I heard the usual con ads on the radio. Got problems with the IRS? No problem, we can renegotiate that away. Too much credit card borrowing? No problem, we can settle it at half what you owe … Lately I heard ads from the Department of Agriculture, reminding me that if I belong to some such minority group, I can sue if I felt I was discriminated against.


My point again is not to object to magnanimity, but to object mightily to those who slander a system that is more egalitarian and generous than any in civilization’s history. Race-based quotas help as well.

What do they help? They help poor people acquire what Hanson calls “the simulacra of equality.” Here’s the actual example he uses to “prove” that the simulacra of equality is a good thing:

I also say simulacra because few in Selma vacation in Tuscany. But sitting in front of a big-screen TV, with some Italian music on, while watching Rick Steves (with TV sound off) touring Florence seems not all that different from the 28-hour hassle of flying to rural Italy. The former is free; the latter “rich” people alone afford.

Sitting in front of a television isn’t all that different from going to Italy? The mind reels. Hanson’s new definition of “the good life” entails not starving and not having to deal with the hassle of flying overseas. So if you see someone in expensive sneakers who’s neither starving nor vacationing overseas and you still think that class exists in America, you’re probably one of those people trying to “get tenure by writing obscure, clever little essays that few read on insidious class differences.”

And if you’re one of those people, your mother’s most likely a Mexican.

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  • c u n d gulag

    Sweet Apollo H. Bacchus, waking-up hungover and looking at a rosy-fingered dawn that’s not of his own creation – I bet if you put all of the imbeciles and drooling moronic idiots in the mass of commoners of ‘The Classic Hellenistic Period,’ and gave them all keyboards, they couldn’t in a couple of milleniums come up with as much “fucking stupid” as that boy does in one page.

    This is Heracles in reverse – where he’s seeing how much shit he can pile-up in the stables of PJM.

    What a putz!
    What, too Semitic?
    Ok then, what’s Greek for putz?

    • SEK

      I left a lot of material on the cutting room floor with this one. Hell, I didn’t even manage to squeeze all the zingers in the title, which doesn’t even mention vacationing overseas. There’s only so much incoherence once can squeeze into a post before people start wondering whether the problem isn’t with your source material. Let me assure you:

      The problem is with my source material.

    • efgoldman

      What a putz!
      What, too Semitic?
      Ok then, what’s Greek for putz?

      “Putz” isn’t Semitic, anymore. It’s New York-ese.

      • efgoldman

        Also too “Douche” fits the bill and isn’t Semitic at all.

    • Ok then, what’s Greek for putz?


      • DocAmazing


  • ‘defining “the good life” as the absence of suffering’ is Epicurus. Not that this has anything much to do with your post…

    • SEK

      That might’ve been too much of a Hanson in-joke. He hates Epicurus. He’s a eudaimonia man, though his definition of what that means is as demented as the logic he employs in this post.

      • mds

        If you can’t spot the monia in the first half hour at the table, then eudaimonia.

      • Alex

        For someone who lives in Fresno as Vicki does, the fact that he doesn’t have to live in Bakersfield is living the good life.

        Obviously dude has his sights set low. Besides, travelling to Europe you might contract communism or some other communicable disease.

  • It is about “class”, he’s trying every trick in the book to divide the working class.

    • SEK

      It’s only about class inasmuch as everyone he complains about — with the possible exception of the guy vacationing on his couch — is some color other than white.

  • mark f

    Holy shit.

  • Anonymous

    And of course a commenter pulled out this canard:

    Another must-read from Dr. Hanson. Thanks to Capitalism, the poorest 5% in the USA are wealthier than 2/3rds of the world’s population.

    • Bill Murray

      yes we do an excellent job of exploiting those other places

      • Bill Murray

        I should add “even more than our own poor” to the end of my previous comment

    • Jeffrey Kramer

      And if we really want to be fair and put all this in Historical perspective, the poorest person in the United States has more access to instant noodles than 99.99999 percent of all members of genus Homo who have ever lived.

      • c u n d gulag

        Who knew that poor people in the US had that much more access to instant noodles than all of the really smart Gay guys who ever lived, even since the time of the Ancient Ramen’s?

      • R Johnston

        Somewhere in the 5%-10% range of all members of genus Homo who ever lived are alive today. The poorest Americans have worse access to instant noodles than other Americans, Europeans Japanese, urban Chinese, and a whole lot of other people as well, leaving them with better access to instant noodles than no more than about 98% at most of members of the genus homo ever to live.

        • Jeffrey Kramer

          What if we expanded it to all hominids? That would certainly help put the “poverty” of people on food stamps in perspective!

  • Visitor

    Brilliant takedown!

    One copy edit I recommend, ‘specially in case the Hanson fellow has fans about to flock here… not “this simulacra” but “these simulacra of equality are a good thing”. (sg: simulacrum)

    Can’t bear to read the original article; grateful you sliced and diced it for me!

    • SEK

      Thanks! I meant “the,” but “this” came out. Stupid brain.

  • ploeg

    So this is the bar:

    Egge-Koren House

    Erik Egge built this house in 1852 on his farm five miles southeast of Decorah. In July 1853, he married Helen Pedersdatter, a widow with two small children. From December 1853 to March 1854, the newlyweds, Rev. U. Vilhelm Koren and his wife Elisabeth, lived with the Egges. Elisabeth’s diary provides detailed insight into what it was like for four adults and two children to spend the winter in a one-room 14-by-16-foot log house. The Egges lived in this house until 1872, raising a family of six.

    It is worth noting that the pastor, the more-or-less defacto leader of the settlement, had to room with one of his parishoners before they could get to work on his abode. So if the Norwegians were suffering, they were all suffering together.

    In contrast, well…

    Life in “poor” nearby Selma is far different from Warren Buffett’s. Or maybe it isn’t really — again, in the sense that I’m not sure he bathes, eats, dresses, or goes to the doctor in ways we out here cannot.

    I’m sure that Warren Buffett is wealthy enough that he can deed his used duds to Goodwill so that the plebes can dress like him. As for eating like Warren Buffett, they might do so every so often when they can get to a real grocery store with real, fresh produce, rather than the small corner shops that are typically within their reach. And as for going to the doctor?

    • I’m not sure he bathes, eats, dresses, or goes to the doctor in ways we out here cannot.

      He can do all these things because he wants to and never because he has to. Also I am just like a prisoner because they have showers and TV and doctors and clothing too.

      • Not that Warren Buffet doesn’t have to eat or see a doctor but he likely doesn’t have to leave either until it’s necessary.

  • Vance Maverick

    The bit about Tuscany is the least repugnant, but it’s the one that stuck in my head, as a concentrated example of addled thinking and writing. Even in the very moment he claims that watching TV is not much different visiting another country, he slips in “the 28-hour hassle”, spoiling his point without managing to make another. It’s the undeveloped germ, I think, of an argument that rich people have to suffer to gain their travel experiences.

    I also like the can’t-be-bothered imprecision of “some Italian music”. Jovanotti? Enrico Rava? Scelsi? If he were to stop for a second to spell out the requirement, he would expose the Disneylike falsity of the version of “culture” he’s claiming should satisfy the 99%.

    • Vance Maverick

      There’s a Murakami character (maybe several) who informs us that Rossini overtures go well with making spaghetti. At least there it’s part of a consistent self-conscious policy of lucid and subtle superficiality.

      • mark f

        The protaganist in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle fits that description.

    • I also like the can’t-be-bothered imprecision of “some Italian music”. Jovanotti? Enrico Rava? Scelsi?


    • SEK

      Even in the very moment he claims that watching TV is not much different visiting another country, he slips in “the 28-hour hassle”

      I don’t think that’s a slip so much as an attempt at drawing an equivalence. Sure, if you’re “poor” — the scare quotes around all class designations is itself worthy of mockery — if you’re “poor,” you can only afford to “go” to Italy on your HD TV, which is just as much of a privation as it would be if you were “rich” and had to deal with customs and traveling by bus.

    • mark f

      I’ve watched Rick Steves a few times. It’s a pretty good way to pass some time. You know what it doesn’t make me want to do? Not travel. If anything it makes me want to go to Italy or Ireland or even Tehran even more.

  • TT

    God, what a smarmy douche. So glad I came to that same conclusion, when I was young and impressionable, after reading his first bundle of post-9/11 essays for NRO.

  • Christopher

    The ability of the human mind to compartmentalize is an amazing thing.

    Go read some of what Hanson has written. I really wonder if Hanson accepted work this poorly argued and dishonest from his students. If he did, he was a terrible teacher. If not, well, compartmentalization is an amazing thing.

    • R Johnston

      While the human capacity for compartmentalization is most certainly amazing, Hanson isn’t compartmentalizing. In 100% of his reasoning he’s a racist, irrational, sociopathic imbecile. He’s a hardcore and consistent tribalist, and if you’re not in his tribe you’re the enemy and everything bad that can be said about you is “true.”

      • Icarus Wright

        I must disagree with your characterization of Hanson as a “racist, irrational, sociopathic imbecile;” those are, to some degree, subjective terms terms often employed to vilify one’s ideological opponents.

        However, you’re absolutely right to define him as a tribalist.

        I guess what I mean is that being accused of “racism,” (or other forms of bigotry) means nothing to VDH. While he and people like him realize bigotry isn’t socially acceptable in 21st century America, they belong to a system of political psychology that depends on scare quotes and whining about the impositions of political correctness on free speech.

        • commie atheist

          In other words, he’s a racist.

          Sometimes the simplest explanations are the best ones.

          • DrDick

            Indeed. In fact, Icarus’s phrasing is pretty much definitional for racism when applied to racialized ethnicities.

      • Anonymous

        I was at a dinner party with him (5? yrs ago), he monopolized the conversation telling how hard he has had it and how unfair things are being him. He said he had to build a big fortified wall around his house to protect them from the hordes of rioting Mexicans, and that many nights has to stand outside holding a shotgun to scare them away. Then he told about how his brother sold his land to an Indian guy, VDH characterized him as “a Punjabi” and went on for some time imitating the guy’s speech, it was wrong, he said, for his brother to sell to the guy due to his background. Everyone looked appalled, but it was a local group and he was from away, so no one said anything. The hostess (his friend) helpfully kept going into the kitchen to wash dishes as they were used during the meal, so she was of no help.

        He did seem to think he was giving a presentation rather than conversing like a normal person. There were other uni professors there, some wine makers (VDH grew raisins) and some Nat’l Guard guys back from Iraq. Surely there was some other topic aside from his personal farm/finances and how hard it is to be him.

        Plus he said Dick Cheney was a Great Man.

        • Anonymous

          I only now clicked through the link and see that he is *still* on about “Punjabi’s”. Does he think this is better than Indian? Does he not know that Punjab is one small area in India? Perhaps all Americans should be referred to as Virginians?

          • DrDick

            In fairness, Punjab actually is divided between India and Pakistan (Punjabis are the dominant ethnic group in the latter country). Perhaps he just has a thing about Sikhs (they wear turbans you know).

        • DrDick

          No one has suffered or been persecuted as much as affluent white Christian conservatives! Everyone knows that.

  • Informant

    Isn’t “Victor David Hanson Writes Racially Offensive Article” kind of a “Dog Bites Man” story?

    • ploeg

      Don’t harsh Scott, it’s Faculty Fuckup Friday. Occasionally you need to tee up a ball and knock it silly.

      • ploeg

        Fresno Faculty Fuckup Friday

  • JupiterPluvius

    Wait, wtf? What poor people can afford $200 kicks? Does he think all black people are poor? Or that all avid sneaker collectors are black? It’s like a Dobos torte of wrong.

    • BigHank53

      That struck me as well. Anyone who can spend $200 on sneakers (even if it’s on credit) isn’t poor by any definition of the word. They might be spending foolishly, but that’s not the same thing at all. I guess “poor” was the best euphemism he could find for black.

      • SEK

        I guess “poor” was the best euphemism he could find for black.

        You misspelled “synonym.”

      • Jay C

        Yes, It’s the “spending foolishly” part that Dr. Hanson (btw: minor nitpick, his middle name is “Davis“* , not “David”) is pushing here, I think: which isn’t even a particularly original tack. For decades, rightwing intellectuals have been lambasting the more-melanin-enhanced of our fellow Americans as feckless fools, awash in a self-manufactured culture of feckless foolery; and almost invariable point to some instance of unruly clamoring to [buy/steal/loot] some item of popular bling to bolster their “case”. Which, again, almost invariably includes some variation on “poor Americans are richer that 3 jillion percent of humanity” and/or “they wouldn’t be poor if they didn’t waste their (probably welfare) money on bling”

        * derived from the Koine Greek term for “dipshit”, I beleive

      • jack

        Some percentage of those Jordan buyers are entrepreneurs who immediately listed those sneakers on Ebay for $400.

    • commie atheist

      What poor people can afford $200 kicks?

      All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,
      You better run, better run, outrun my gun.
      All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,
      You better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    I guess it’s now official: the American conservative intellectual’s position on issues of poverty and inequality is the “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch.

  • Colin Day

    This may be off-topic, but I have some questions about his The Soul of Battle. In the Sherman section, he complains that the Eastern Theater gets too much notice. Fair enough, but while he mentions Grant’s 1864 campaign in Virginia, he never mentions Grant’s western campaigns.

    Also, he says that Napoleon freed no slaves, which is not entirely correct. While he did attempt to re-enslave Haiti, his 1806/07 campaign against Prussia forced it to abolish serfdom.

    I just had to rant.

    • rea

      He’s the alleged Thucydides expert who thinks the Athenians had the better argument in the Melian dialogue.

      • Paul

        “He’s the alleged Thucydides expert who thinks the Athenians had the better argument in the Melian dialogue.”

        Well actually the Athenians did have a pretty good argument and pretty good reasons for what they did.

  • Paul

    “”From a man who compulsively reminds anyone in earshot that “for 20 years I taught classics,”””

    An old professor of mine from back when I was an undergrad James Holoka (does the Michigan War Studies review now) once characterized it as the 2 Hanson’s A:the used to be really good historian; and B: the political pundit.

    Its too bad the is no American society of Classical Historians intervention group that could walk him back to history and away from politics.

    • rea

      I don’t know about his more academic stuff, but things like Carnage & Culture and The Soul of Battle are pure unadulterated crap.

      • Paul

        No those are really General History from his B stage I was thinking of his older works from the 80s like:

        Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece

  • Matt

    If problems don’t actually count as problems if somebody’s got them worse, does that mean VDH thinks the 1% should STFU about taxes? After all, there are plenty of people who pay a higher rate… ;)

  • In the car today, I heard the usual con ads on the radio. Got problems with the IRS? No problem, we can renegotiate that away. Too much credit card borrowing? No problem, we can settle it at half what you owe …

    Is Hanson really too dumb to know that these ads are not a sign of a “magnanimous” society, but the bleatings of frauds who will shear the sheep who believe them? Maybe that question answers itself…

  • Brutusettu

    VDH won me over with his brilliant Norwegian immigrant analogy.
    Just as I’m sure he’d gladly pay over 90% of his otherwise discretionary income in the form of taxes, after all, 94% was the war time highest tax rate bracket for the Greatest Generation. And countless otherwise Americans received just room, board, and lashes for their labor before that. So now, 90% tax rate on otherwise discretionary income doesn’t seem so bad.

    John Stossel would be proud of VDH.

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