“A Brief Course in World Politics” (E59)

  • Originally printed:  Liberty Magazine, December 6, 1930
  • First reprinted in: Benchley Lost and Found
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown



Another smug entry that first saw the light of day in Liberty Magazine (a three-year gig that seldom brought out the best in Benchley). Whatever modicum of mirth the piece might have afforded readers at the time is very hard to discern beneath the intervening carnage of the 1930s and 1940s. Dulled by an admittedly brain-atrophying state of affairs on the domestic political front in 1930 (when Democrats and Republicans were even more anxious than usual to assure the electorate that neither entity could ever possibly stand for anything), Benchley’s decidedly anti-Fawkesian persona eschews any interest in trying to disentangle (or even take cognizance of) the political struggles and upheavals occurring elsewhere.

With its emphasis upon the author’s tendency to confuse and conflate various nation states with one another, to draw back in horror from ballots filled with multi-word party names, and to take offense at the very idea of national elections that don’t take place on regularly scheduled Tuesdays in November, the text does provide some ammunition for an against-the-grain reading of the essay as a satire of American ignorance and apathy, rather than of incomprehensible international squabbling. However, like “Back in Line” (E32), the predominant mode of address here appears to assume a readership afflicted with precisely those intellectual shortcomings.  

Favourite Moment:

As it stands now, I am likely to throw the whole thing up and go in for contract bridge. There, at least, you know who your partner is. You may not act as if you knew, and your partner may have grave doubts about your ever knowing, but, in your own mind, the issues are very clearly defined.

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