"No evil is greater than anarchy."
—A Latin Proverb
With author's fees in eight figures and print runs to match, Thomas Harris's cannibal is what publishers call a phenomenon. "I should've written that!" agonize America's ambitious housewives on their way to becoming failed writers. "I can't believe that this is what people want to read," murmur intellectual snobs on their way to becoming nothing in particular. "Why, it's actually quite good," equivocate the rest of Harris's readers, "and besides, who says that if something's popular it's got to be trash? What about the Beatles?" But the initial success, and now the triumphant return, of Dr. Hannibal Lecter is more curious than the debate, familiar as the cover of an airport novel, among turbid envy, impotent snobbery, and placid egalitarianism.
Dr. Lecter psychoanalyzes the people he meets, finds them morally inadequate, and then eats them. The plot having been thus dispensed with, there is now more space to examine what millions of Harris's fans actually find in his homicidal yarns, and the unexpected truth that is their social and political message.
In the company of my Russian friends, conversations, obsessively and to the exclusion of women and song, are always about Joseph Stalin. We admire Stalin as a kind...