The best of Bageant

Issue 
Joe Bageant.

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant
By Joe Bageant
Scribe Publications, 2011
$32.95, 298 pp.

Joe Bageant was a feature on many United States left-wing websites, such as Counterpunch, over the years. His writing is witty, outrageous and with a penetratingly cynical view of working-class American life.

Bageant, who died last year, came from a depressed, working-class community in Winchester, Virginia, and never lost his love/hate relationship with the people he knew so well there.

He was able to grasp the confused, redneck consciousness that would, at one moment, cling to the US flag and then in the next completely see through the pretensions of Washington politicians.

Beneath Bageant's profanity-laced text beats a compassionate heart, an acute theological sensibility and, at times, a great stylist. For example, the final words of the “Sleepwalking to Fallujah” chapter: "And off on the horizon to the east, the sirens and the wailing never cease, for we have bestowed shock and awe upon Babylon."

Be aware that Bageant is badgering at times. This is a collection of blog entries and has all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre.

I got sick of reading him during a too-long rave endorsing Malthusianism. I put the book down and found weeks later, when I picked it up again, that just over the page the raving stopped and the stylist returned.

Beneath the sometimes over-the-top ranting, Bageant truly was a great moral philosopher, musing on the questions that confront humanity at this time. Faults and all, this book is worth reading.

A documentary film featuring Bageant called The Kingdom of Survival was shown at the Montreal Film Festival last August. No doubt it will make its way to Australia in good time and should be worth viewing.

The film claims to connect “art, religion, academia, alternative media, utopianism, anarchism, globalized capitalism and radical fringe philosophy”, which is a fair enough assessment of Bageant himself.