And amid all that is what seems to be his conclusion: that America is a curious sort of empire—not at all like Rome at its zenith or decline—with a particular character of individualism that he hopes will cause the country to do the good it could do in the world. He’s disappointed that we aren’t living up to our noblesse oblige responsibilities. “The reason I am so angry against neoconservatives is that they spoiled the very idea of intervention,” says the self-described Wilsonian. And he’s flabbergasted that the American left can be so accommodating to the puritanism of the right. There is, in fact, for a secular blue-stater, little in this book to disagree with: It has, at times, the reinforcement-of-a-worldview pleasures of a well-argued Frank Rich column, or, for that matter, The Daily Show.
So is his goal with American Vertigo to become BHL in America, a branded public intellectual? “No comment,” he says, punching my shoulder lightly. “What I would like is if I could participate in the ideological intellectual debate here and contribute in a slight way.”
Still, he’s not going to move here. This is, after all, a man with many mistresses, and this country is just one of them. But, in the end, what did he like best about the U.S.?
“Everything, my dear. I will tell you. Sometimes in your private life you have a mistress you love, love being with. You spend time to time in a grand hotel, with good room service, great champagne, and you separate—and when you are really in love with her, you inevitably think, Could I wake up with her, near her every morning? And then you try it. This is exactly what I did in America. America was a great mistress. I had a great fuck with America. It was like a weekend in the Hotel du Cap.”