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.
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