Know Your Enemy: Joan Didion, Conservative, with Sam Tanenhaus

Know Your Enemy: Joan Didion, Conservative, with Sam Tanenhaus

Why did Joan Didion love Barry Goldwater but hate Ronald Reagan? Historian Sam Tanenhaus helps make sense of Didion’s conservatism.

Joan Didion speaks at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, in 1977 (Janet Fries/Getty Images)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

When Joan Didion died in December at the age of eighty-seven, her early conservatism figured into a number of obituaries and commentaries but was rarely discussed in detail. Matt and Sam turned to Sam Tanenhaus, William F. Buckley Jr.’s biographer and knower of all things National Review, to discuss Didion’s early writing for the magazine, her roots in California conservatism, and how her politics changed—and didn’t—over the course of her long career. Along the way, they talk about why she loved Barry Goldwater and hated Ronald Reagan, why she finally stopped writing for National Review, and how she compares to other writers from that era—from Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe to Gore Vidal and Garry Wills.

Sources and further reading:

Joan Didion, On Self-Respect, Vogue (1961)

I want to go ahead and do it, New York Times (1979)

The Lion King, NYRB (1997)

New York: Sentimental Journeys, NYRB (1991)

John Wayne: A Love Song, Saturday Evening Post (1965)

Writing in the National Review

Ross Douthat, Try Canceling Joan Didion, New York Times

Parul Sehgal, The Case Against the Trauma Plot, New York Times

Louis Menand, Out of Bethlehem, New Yorker

Stephen Schryer, Writers for Goldwater, Post45

Haley Mlotek, It’s All in the Angles, The Nation

Caitlin Flanagan, The Autumn of Joan Didion, The Atlantic

Jacob Bacharach, Joan Didion Cast Off the Fictions of American Politics, The New Republic

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