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Glenn Loury: confessions of a douchebag His memoir fails to capture his intellectual achievements

'A bad motherfucker.' Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images

'A bad motherfucker.' Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images


May 17, 2024   6 mins

Glenn Loury, the distinguished economist and social critic, is a bad motherfucker: the bane of guilty white liberals and black race hustlers, eviscerating both with analytical precision and rhetorical prowess. He is also, it transpires from reading his memoir Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative, bad in the more straightforwardly Caucasian sense of that word.

“There’s two Tony Soprano’s,” Tony Soprano tells his therapist, Dr Melfi, in a last-ditch attempt to woo her. “You’ve never seen the other one. That’s the one that I want to show to you.” Loury similarly raises the spectre of two conflicting selves, but unlike Soprano who wants Melfi to see his good self while minimising his bad one, Loury wants to immerse the reader in the ways of Bad Glenn. Indeed, this is a deliberate strategy on his part, designed to foster the impression that he’s a reliable narrator. “The more self-discrediting information I deploy, the more credible I will become,” he surmises, echoing George Orwell’s dictum that an “autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful”. “No sane person would invent the discrediting things I’m going to tell you about myself”, Loury writes, reasoning that having shown readers his worst they will be more inclined to believe the passages that “cast me in a more conventionally positive light”.

As an academic, economist and commentator, Loury has had a long and remarkably successful career, holding positions at elite American universities, including Brown, MIT and Harvard, joining the latter as a tenured full professor at the young age of 33. As a father, husband and friend, he has been decidedly less triumphant, and much of Late Admissions is devoted to documenting the myriad lies and betrayals he inflicted on those closest to him. Indeed, Late Admissions is so remorselessly frank and meticulous in tallying up Loury’s dreadful behaviour that the reader is apt to feel like a voyeur, engrossed and grossed out in equal measure.

Over the course of several hundred pages, we learn that Loury is an absent father to his first two children; that he abandons another child that results from an affair and refuses to pay child support to the mother of that child; that he commits further multiple acts of infidelity during his second marriage; that he becomes a crack addict; that he cruises for hookers; that he has flings with his students; that he carries on with the wife of a best friend he knew since childhood; that he continues to cheat on his second wife throughout her struggle with cancer; and that he writes a mean obituary of a conservative friend (James Q. Wilson) because he thought it would make him popular among liberals. Confessions of An Enormous Douchebag would have been a more apt subtitle for Loury’s memoir.

Anyone who is prudish or puritanical should not read Late Admissions, for it is saturated in illicit sex. Loury recalls that his uncle Adlert had told him that the overriding goal in life, that what really mattered, was “to get as much pussy as you can”. Loury was in his teens when his uncle relayed this to him and it seems like he took it to heart. He has certainly had a lot of pussy, as Adlert would put it, and in recounting his many sexual conquests and romantic entanglements, he displays an almost adolescent pride, bordering on boastfulness. One of the funnier anecdotes he relates is how, when at a conference in Israel, he slopes off to an empty stretch of beach with his mistress, where after several minutes of “going at it” they draw the attention of two IDF soldiers. “A beautiful woman, an exotic beach on the other side of a great ocean, and me, the transcontinental jet-setter who made it all happen,” he writes. “To such lengths was I willing to go to in order to get what I wanted, and I wouldn’t be denied anything.”

Nor does or did Loury seem to have any misgivings about paying for sex, remembering “a wild few hours together” with two prostitutes in a hotel while away on business. “After they leave,” he writes, “I smile and think that I cannot wait to tell Adlert about this one.”

To say that Loury’s private dealings stood in tension with his public pronouncements and personae is rather an understatement. As he rapidly rose to prominence in his academic career, he styled himself as a black conservative intellectual who argued that racial inequality in America persisted not because of white racism (the “enemy without”), but rather because of pathologies within the black community itself (the “enemy within”). He was also a vocal critic of affirmative action, insisting that the problems of the black ghetto could be better managed through entrepreneurism rather than government handouts. The values he most admired were exemplified in the figure of his father, whom he revered and who’s approval he always sought: namely, “rigorous austerity and personal responsibility”. “If black people want to thrive,” he believed, “we can only depend on ourselves to make that happen.” Yet in his private life, Loury was the very personification of the pathologies he railed against publicly.

“In his private life, Loury was the very personification of the pathologies he railed against publicly.”

In other words, Loury was living a lie, all the while publicly donning what the sociologist Laud Humphreys called “the breastplate of righteousness” to conceal and compensate for his disreputable self. And yet he couldn’t renounce the lure of the double life, until it came crashing down when his 23-year-old side-woman accused him of assault (the charges were eventually dropped) and when he got busted for drugs possession not long after. This spelled the beginning of the end of his time at Harvard, which he traded for Boston University. It wasn’t that his colleagues there didn’t support him, quite the contrary. But he felt that they pitied him and his sense of pride couldn’t tolerate this.

Around this time, Loury sought solace and redemption in religion and began attending an African Methodist Episcopal church with his wife Linda. Although this filled a spiritual void, it wasn’t a lasting conversion. He also started to shapeshift into a man of the Left, recanting many of his earlier positions. This was quite a turnaround. Loury had been never less than trenchant in his belief that violent crime was a far more urgent problem for black people than police brutality, but now he backtracked, focusing his attention instead on the racialised evils of mass incarceration. While he once delighted in scandalising what he scathingly called the “Negro Cognoscenti” — middle-class posers who faked authentic blackness, unlike working-class Loury who grew up on the South Side of Chicago — he now went all in on courting them and professing his fidelity to the cause.

But just as things had soured with his conservative bedfellows, they too began to sour with his fellow progressives. While he enjoyed the adulation that came with righteous causes, he felt that it was a pose. “I was a conservative,” he writes, “and in truth I suspected that’s what I always had been.”

More recently, particularly on his weekly podcast, The Glenn Show, Loury has carved out a niche as a fierce and compelling critic of America’s “racial reckoning”, sternly rebuking the excesses of BLM and the sanctification of George Floyd and other victims of police shootings “as though they were civil rights heroes”. “It seemed to me,” he writes, “that the activists concerned with preserving black life and well-being ought to worry about what was going on within black communities at least as much as they worried about the cops.”

It isn’t clear why or how Loury went from being a conservative to a Leftist and then back again, and Late Admissions is not particularly incisive at explaining it. But it offers some interesting pointers. The one enduring continuity in Loury’s life seems to be his desire for contention. It’s as if he needed to unmake friends or manufacture grievances because whenever he achieved anything of worth or settled anywhere he would become interminably bored. He needed contention because of the excitement and sense of purpose it afforded him. “The real story,” he confides, “is that I revelled in playing the bad boy, in drawing the ire of those for whom I had contempt. I loved the fight.”

At the same time, Loury craves the warmth of comradeship and community, because without that where is the audience for your genius and where is the love? But he also finds community and its “we” talk and its ethical obligations a suffocating imposition on his freedom to live on his own terms. This is one of the tragedies of his life and explains much of the turbulence that defines it.

Loury’s political positioning seems more dictated by his personal needs than by strictly intellectual considerations. While his current thinking is shaped by a thread of common sense and pragmatism that has been latent in Loury from the beginning, it lacks a footing in a wider perspective about how the world is and where it’s headed.

Late Admissions is less successful at capturing the weight of Loury’s intellectual achievements, especially those that relate to economic theory. That isn’t where the energy is and Loury knows this. “I’ve always cared how it went with women and that’s taken up much of my free time,” the late Martin Amis once said in an interview, elaborating: “Even powerful figures start to dismiss what they’ve done in the public sphere. It’s the personal stuff at the very end that’s important and it gives them agony and regret and remorse. It’s a man thing.” I think Loury would more or less assent to this and much of the substance of Late Admissions bears this out.

Loury’s is now 75 and nearing the end of his life. As a young man he’d always wanted to become, in his words, a “Player of his own making”, and he has achieved that and much more. He has also played and wounded a lot of people. But at no point does he excuse or minimise this, much less try to therapise it. In the closing pages of the book, Loury acknowledges that he is a fallen man and that he has an internal enemy and that it is an indelible part of him. This is to his immense credit. Like Philip Roth, Loury suggests that we can never hope to erase the “human stain” that afflicts all of humankind. The great achievement of Late Admissions is that it confronts this head on and in a startlingly honest way.


Simon Cottee is a senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Kent.


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J D
J D
1 day ago

“The great achievement of Late Admissions is that it confronts this head on and in a startlingly honest way.” Right at the end – are you kidding!? Throughout the piece here there is very little by way of respect for the confessional nature of the book. These closing remarks seem incongruous.

Modern puritans will find this book ‘problematic’ of course. I suspect this journalist is unwittingly among them. They are delusional children alienated from their own shadow side and purveyors of a two dimensional cookie cutter morality. In this era of Puritanism I can’t decide if this book is brave or stupid. But I’m less uncertain on how to judge this article: “While his current thinking is shaped by a thread of common sense and pragmatism that has been latent in Loury from the beginning, it lacks a footing in a wider perspective about how the world is and where it’s headed.” That seems pretty condescending and stupid to me. A man with Loury’s life experience has more perspective than most I’d suggest, and if this journalist has a special knowledge of where the world is headed he really ought to write about that. Or perhaps think about writing up his own confessions.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 day ago
Reply to  J D

I thought the same about your last point. In addition to which, why does the author feel it necessary to have a ‘worldview’, something which could be seen as self-limiting?

With regard to your earlier points, perhaps Loury simply wants to stay in the limelight? The adage “all publicity is good publicity” might be applied here, and after what sounds like a lifetime of being ‘relevant’ this is Loury’s way of seeking to refresh his cachet.

Last edited 22 hours ago by Lancashire Lad
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 day ago
Reply to  J D

Incisive remarks that raise my distrust of Mr. Cottee’s own motives, and return me to more of a wait and see attitude toward Mr. Loury’s book. I agree that the sentence you last quote is way off the mark, even “condescending and stupid”. Our cultural moment doesn’t give enough weight to “lived experience”? Memoirists and autobiographers must be philosophers and sociologists too?

Last edited 1 day ago by AJ Mac
mike otter
mike otter
21 hours ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Def backfired with me – i’d never have even heard of the book let alone put it on my Christmas list – now i am keen to find out more – Loury seems to have something of the Hunter Thompson or William Burroughs about him. I wonder if Mr Cottee is a fascinating or complex character?

mike otter
mike otter
21 hours ago
Reply to  mike otter

Just checked his biog – seems not but then maybe under the leafy canopy of UKC he is a secret raver running naked amongst the bison of Blean woods, making use of the abundant liberty caps found in the garden of England. I kind of hope so but am prepared for disappointment.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 hours ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I was under the impression that our cultural moment affords individual “lived experience” as the be all and end all! The progressive left certainly seem to wield it as a weapon at every opportunity!

Last edited 6 hours ago by Andrew Fisher
mike otter
mike otter
21 hours ago
Reply to  J D

Imagine how these alienated children will feel when they too succumb to the reality of being human – mental health, addictions, relationship failures and transgressions can happen to anyone. IME the more manichean and cookie cutter the moralist the harder it is to get control of such problems. This probably explains why they and the author of the article are so concerned with everyone elses’ lives, i expect at the expense of their own.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 hours ago
Reply to  J D

I can’t understand the defense. The fact that Loury emits that he was a prime douchebag might be honest and to his credit, but doesn’t mean that in fact he somehow wasn’t, and a prize hypocrite to boot! At least making some attempt to live by your (supposed) ideals doesn’t seem to be an impossible task to me.

Last edited 6 hours ago by Andrew Fisher
Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
1 day ago

Well, just because he’s a hypocrite that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
21 hours ago

Even Unherd is apostrophising plural nouns now? Ugh and double ugh.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 day ago

“The more self-discrediting information I deploy, the more credible I will become”–I’m not sure how a capable economist can try to sell, let alone buy such a notion. A cynical stab at the genre of sordid confessionalism he seems to have entered, or simple wishful thinking?
This is a book I’d looked forward to reading. Now it’ll go underneath a tall stack of books I’ve “assigned to myself”, and I won’t pick it up at all unless it comes robustly recommended by other reviewers. I’d heard a little about these escapades from Loury himself on The Glenn Show, and I’ll still listen to him in conversation with John McWhorter. But when it comes to a detailed accounting of someone else’s self-indulgences and moral failures: less is usually more.

Robert
Robert
1 day ago

If you’ve listened to Glenn over the years, you’ll know he is not shy about calling out young black men for their bad behavior. From what I’ve learned about this book and his past life (lives?) I suspect his credibility with those same young men will not be enhanced. Good luck selling the ‘don’t do as I did, do as I say’ message to young men, Glenn. Seemed to turn out alright for you, didn’t it?

Terry M
Terry M
19 hours ago
Reply to  Robert

Disagree. Ex-cons are often brought in to high schools to tell the kids how difficult that life is and how they regret it; they have credibility. Same with ex-alcoholics at AA meetings, or mothers at classes for new mothers-to-be. Whether people take their lessons is on them

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
16 hours ago
Reply to  Terry M

True, but in the U.S. ex-cons and murderers occasionally end up as gangsta rappers with a lucrative record deal. I prefer Al Capone myself. A true gangster. You wouldn’t catch him prancing around in a recording studio.

Last edited 16 hours ago by Julian Farrows
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
13 hours ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

A determined and vicious thug until the end, or at least until they got him for tax evasion. What a guy!
There’s something quite hilarious about gangster nostalgia, tongue in cheek as it may be.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
18 hours ago
Reply to  Robert

Agreed. I’ve enjoyed listening and reading Mr. Loury’s work over the years and I am certainly not a young black man, but still very dismayed about these revelations! It’s like he is lamenting the fact that he lived the life that he railed against for so long. He has lived a lie and that should be disturbing to anyone with a soul.
When I was young, I certainly could have lived that life of getting as much pus@# as I could, as the intense desire was there, but something deep inside me always gently guided me away from consummating the deal, whether it was the advances of women or when I initiated the hunt. I believe it was the Holy Spirit that put up those guardrails all along and it has led to a fulfilling life without all the drama and broken hearts. I am very thankful for that.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
21 hours ago

If a person cannot recognize his own foibles, he is in no position to point out anyone else’s. Still, there is quite the juxtaposition of the subtitle’s reference to Loury as a douche and the closing line that heralds the book’s honesty. I suppose two things can simultaneously be true but those two points seem wildly at odds.
I have listened to his podcast periodically and it’s interesting. Loury does not buy into the victim mentality, which naturally puts him on the outs with leftists and social warriors whose MO is to blame outside third parties. But this review makes the book sound like a rock star’s tell-all about backstage and hotel room exploits, which makes it appear less interesting than it might actually be.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
18 hours ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Agreed. But bear in mind that “journos” rarely write the titles or subtitles for their own articles, They’ve really gone wild for clickbait language here at UnHerd.

mike otter
mike otter
22 hours ago

So basically Glenn Loury is a mass of contradictions as a human being BUT is able to understand and write intelligently about complex issues. The former is true of all of us, the latter not so much. We should give him credit for his honesty. However bad we’ve been in our pasts its better to yield to the “agony and regret and remorse” than to carry on loading the same onto other people with bad beahviour – so whilst i am not familiar with M Amis other than what the critics say i expect he too is a mess of contradictions with a sound intellect. I don’t see why those two things still seem to be seen as exclusive.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
21 hours ago

“Few of us practice what we preach, but most of us have the good grace not to preach what we practice”. (Richard Needham)
While we’re attributing quotations, kudos to Laud Humphreys for using “breastplate of righteousness”, originally from Ephesians 6:14.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 day ago

It is usually in the nature of men and women to act in imperfect ways, sometimes. Yet the world rolls on.
Perhaps the pundits who expect the perfection of other fashionable people are suffering from a delusion or an unrealistic expectation? One that is corrupting public thought with Puritan judgementalism.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
18 hours ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Sometimes, yes. But to make a career of it?

Y Chromosome
Y Chromosome
21 hours ago

Wow.

Lewis Lorton
Lewis Lorton
19 hours ago

Every impression the blind men have of the elephant is true.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
17 hours ago

Quote, “It isn’t clear why or how Loury went from being a conservative to a Leftist and then back again, ..) It’s very clear: sheer, unalloyed opportunism. Since most of his victims were women and children those with the most power aren’t going to object. And life goes on discounting a few minor picadilloes.

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
1 day ago

Great review. Interesting egotistical person.
I much enjoy the fact that the contradictions documented here flummox the unherded herds.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
10 seconds ago

Talent and achievement is a powerful whitewash. I wonder how differently the world would have judged Epstein, if alongside his private depravities, he had given the world two seminal and touching rock albums.