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An Odd Couple: Galbraith & Waugh

CHRIST AND NEIGHBOR

By John C. Cort | April 1989

Lately I’ve been communing with two men I greatly admire: John Kenneth Galbraith and Eve­lyn Waugh. Somebody gave my wife a copy of Gal­braith’s Annals of an Abiding Liberal (1979) and I discovered that Galbraith had a somewhat reluctant but fervent admiration for the writings of Evelyn Waugh in general and his Diaries (1976) in particular.

Although Waugh’s opinions on almost every subject, including religion, appalled him, Galbraith could not stop himself from loving Waugh’s style. He writes:

Social purpose…is not Waugh’s claim to accomplishment — the thought alone is slightly bizarre. His claim, even when telling of aristocratic nonentities, drugs or drunkenness, is in the way he tells it. Many have said it before: there was not in our time, perhaps in our century, such a master of the craft.

This is high praise, coming as it does from perhaps the most stylish economist of our century. True, Galbraith seems to be most delighted by Waugh’s gift for abuse. Waugh was indeed a masterful char­acter assassin. I remember meeting him at a party in New York and having a pleasant conversation during which I said, “From reading your books I expected you to be cold and caustic and I’m glad to find you are not.” He said, “Don’t be deceived. These are my party manners. I am beastly cold and caustic.”

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