Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This One Is For Joe Sobran

       Joe Sobran passed away last week at the age of 64.   I remember him from the days, back in the 80s, when Reagan was in the White House.  At that time I was a regular subscriber to National Review, and Joe was the editor of it.

       Somewhere in his writings he indicates that he was undergoing a slow but serious change in political philosophy -- he would eventually distance himself from the "established conservative" movement.  Politically, he grew to like and trust the libertarian Murray Rothbard; spiritually, I believe, he sought increasingly to be shaped by the moral philosophy of the Catholic faith.  Good, and very good.

       I, too, was changing:  as the conservative movement drifted from principled opposition to communist tyranny, and replaced its ideals with mere military-industrial opportunism, I began to see less to like, and more to be concerned about:  Gulf War I, for example.  It began, in the H. W. Bush administration, with the April Glaspie affair, and concluded with an unseemly military triumphalism.  "Conservatism" under Republican Establishment management was becoming associated with fiscal irresponsibility, deceit, policy reversals, treachery toward other nations, and dishonorable treatment of former enemies.  And lots of bullying war.

       A couple of years later, I read (in National Review) that William F. Buckley, the magazine's owner, had fired Joe Sobran, the magazine's long-time editor and featured writer.  I remember the infamous Buckley article, "In Search of Anti-Semitism," that accompanied Sobran's exit.  I was puzzled by the flap; I didn't know the gory details, and Buckley's prose came across to me as murky.  Soon after, for reasons I don't remember, I let my subscription to NR lapse.  Maybe I lost confidence;  maybe I just lost interest.

       The long and the short of it is that I lost contact with the very fine mind of Joe Sobran for about a decade;  I reconnected a few years ago.  Thank goodness.  Joe affects my political philosophy like Wendell Berry affects my natural philosophy.  Each one says to me, "This is what you can think; indeed, what you might already have thought, if you were a smarter, wiser, clearer thinker."  Like drinking water from springs, I cannot tell whether it is from last week's local rainfall, or groundwater that has been resting for thousands of years -- what matters is that it is clear and good.

       Well, Joe's gone now.  I saw a recent picture of him.  His serious ailments had devastated him, and I thought he looked terrible.

       No matter:  the Resurrection will take care of all that at the right time.  His spirit has moved to higher places, and we can still share some of his good mind.  I am glad for his part in the Great Conversation.


       I hope that some of you will post your comments.  Please be patient, if the comment thing doesn't work right away.


  1. Robert,

    Good looking blog. Somebody needs to pick up where Internet Monk left off.

    This medium may be more ideal than Facebook, for the reason that it may not be as regimented, as connected to the Caterpillar economy, as spied upon, as bugged. Even then, it still relies on strip mined coal. Well, you gotta make compromises and make complex decisions, right?

    On your post, I agree. Joe Sobran shaped my thinking in many ways. For one thing, it made me more sympathetic to our Catholic friends, made me more skeptical of evangelical claims (especially regarding End Times events) and made me a skeptic of the powers that be in general.

    People accuse Sobran of anti-Semitism, and he did utter mistaken, imperfect things (as we all do). I don't think he harbored hatred toward anybody. I think he was a good man who saw some screwy things going on and was trying to make sense of it all, and found there were few others doing it with him. You're bound to make a few wrong turns when you venture into rarely explored country, but you've got to go there, for your own sanity as much as anything else.

    Is it anti-Semitic to point out, as Joe did, that in the power structures of the world today, Jews have disproportionate influence? I don't think so. Nor do I think that the reality of great Jewish influence conflicts with Biblical narrative; it confirms the Biblical narrative.

    When we say "Jews" we should be careful, as Joe Sobran was, to point out we don't mean ordinary Jews. We mean the powerful Jews, the ones in charge of the great synagogues, those who "show respect of persons" in synagogue, those who control the state of Israel, those who run our banks and entertainment corporations, those who intimidate members of Congress. We mean "the synagogue of Satan," "preachers of another Gospel," "enemies of mankind," "Caterpillars." Enforcers of the old paradigm that Jesus did away with, the cosmic powers of the world.

    Certain stereotypes about Jews and powerful Jews have existed for many centuries. These stereotypes are based in part upon true observations. Christians zealous to convert Jews in the 19th Century proposed elaborate programs to educate them in the arts of farming and animal husbandry, because of the fact that large numbers of European Jews worked as moneylenders and peddlers. Truth is truth.

    As Joe said, Jesus said we are to love our enemies, but that doesn't mean that we mistake them for our friends. On this count, he was totally right, the John Hagee crowd, totally wrong.

  2. One of the things that I particularly appreciated about Sobran was that while he was a man of clear convictions and firm opinions, he never seemed to come across (to me, at least) as hateful in any way. But he could really turn a phrase!

  3. I don't know much about Joe Sobran although now I'm curious to find out more. I do remember that based on the 10th amendment he believed that the actions of the federal government since the Civil War were illegal. I've also heard that he had doubts about the truth of the holocaust.

    I wish that I could recognize a clear voice crying out in the wilderness today.

    By the way, why Sycamore Three--Zacchaeus looking for Truth?

  4. On the name, 'Sycamore Three' -- it came from some Jungian place in my mind, and both Zacchaeus and Truth can be found there.

    And I've had a special place in my mind for the Sycamore Tree since seeing the Wendell Berry play, 'Wild Blessings,' about a year ago.

    I hope to post a picture, soon, that will also illustrate things.

  5. from "Wild Blessings": To be sane in a mad time is a bad thing for the brain, worse for the heart. The world is a holy vision had we clarity to see it; a clarity that men depend on men to make.
    - the Mad Farmer
    I depended on C.S.Lewis and Tolkien to help see it.