Rich Lowry and the conservatism of emotions

Here’s another non-philosophical conservative: National Review’s editor, Richard Lowry, writing at The Corner:

I知 a reflexive defender of guy institutions, from the old VMI to Augusta National. I知 easily moved by guy movies, from Frequency to Old School (OK, maybe I wasn稚 quite moved by it, but it was great fun). So, I知 a little surprised by my reaction to the Annika Sorenstam business. If she can play with the big boys, why not? You can certainly make all the usual points about how the best woman is as only as good as the middling men, but that seems churlish in light of what seems to have been extraordinary performance under great pressure (which is part of what sports is all about). Good for her

After telling us that his support for traditional male institutions is “reflexive,” rather than based on principle, and that he’s “easily moved” by old-fashioned manifestations of male culture, Lowry informs us that he had a positive “reaction” to the female golfer Annika Sorenstam playing in a men’s pro golf event. So, according to Lowry’s own account, his views about the place of men and women in society are based on personal moods and feelings, not on a rational/intuitive grasp of the nature of things, nor on any firm attachment to a traditional or transcendent order of society. As a result, when some new feeling on the subject strikes him (in this case enthusiasm over Sorenstam’s good performance under pressure), he’s ready to betray his former support for all-male institutions, which was also based on feelings.

To cap it all off (and this is almost too perfect as an expression of where Lowry seems to be coming from), he contemplates this exciting breakdown of sexual distinctions and asks: “Why not”? That brassy challenge, “Why not?”, has been a slogan and tactic of the left from the Sixties onward, as it proceeded to attack and topple one traditional value after another. Midge Decter once gave a whole speech about it. But that was before the neocons and the NR-cons learned to stop worrying and love the cultural left.

(If you don’t know what I mean by that last remark, read this, and this, and this.)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 23, 2003 06:12 PM | Send


Your analysis is right on the money, and could apply to so many issues. Immigration,for example, where trite expressions like “nation of immigrants” and “jobs Americans won’t do” take the place of reasoned discourse. Or, in dealing with Islam: “Islam is a religion of peace”, and the argument is over. And sadly,the blank check many Republicans give to Bush over Clinton seems to be due to this sort of reflexive emotionalism.

Posted by: Allan Wall on May 23, 2003 7:25 PM

Lately several writers in the National Review have been attacking philosophy. They seem to consider modern philosophy as the only philosophy. They seem almost completely unfamiliar with scholastic tradition. Several of their writers seem to be in love with the English empiricists like Locke and Hobbes. Here is another example

PURE AND PRACTICAL [Andrew Stuttaford]
Stanley, there’s nothing wrong with political and social theory as such (although there’s plenty that is wrong with most political and social theories). It represents an attempt to resolve practical problems - or at least it ought to. It’s when you get into the abstraction of ‘pure’ philosophy that matters become rather more onanistic or, quite frankly, deranged (read some Wittgenstein and one is left with the impression of a crank writing long, minutely detailed letters to the editor of his local newspaper - in green ink, of course). Contrary to what these ‘philosophers’ would have us believe, it’s all very easy. Why are we here? Chance. Where will we end up? Dust.

I am convinced that most conservatives embrace a philosophy of stoicism. Many of the NR conservatives simply want to put the brakes on liberalism. Harpooning Utopian schemes is the easy part.
Theron C. Bowers, Houston Texas

Posted by: Theron C Bowers on May 24, 2003 1:07 AM

“Contrary to what these 叢hilosophers would have us believe, it痴 all very easy. Why are we here? Chance. Where will we end up? Dust.”—Andrew Stuttaford, National Review Online,

The comment by Stuttaford is the worst thing I’ve ever seen at National Review. I do not remember an NR contributor ever making an in-your-face atheistic statement like this. It’s the kind of thing some nihilistic reductionist scientist like Stephen Weinberg would say. I’m truly shocked.

Speaking of Weinberg, I was just searching for his name on my computer and came upon this exchange with Steve Sailer from July 2001; I was criticizing him for siding with Weinberg in his radical denial of transcendent truth and I pointed out the problems this philosophical direction represented for conservatism:



You make a fundamental mistake—both tactical and philosophical—when, as a supposed conservative, you join with a radical atheist like Stephen Weinberg in attacking the idea of an essential or transcendent truth. As I’ve written elsewhere, the ruin of our culture stems from the loss of belief in transcendent truth, that is, a truth that is not the immediate object of experience or of scientific measurement based on the evidence of the senses. If you’re wondering, for example, why Americans have no will to defend their nation from mass third-world immigration, it is because they have lost any sense that their nation represents an essential truth higher than the individuals who constitute it. The same applies to the loss of belief in moral truth which has left us with no morality except that everyone can do what he likes. As I’ve written: “The moral suicide, and the national suicide, proceed in tandem.”

Even if you are in your own thoughts a radical atheist, which I fear you may be, nevertheless, if you see yourself at all as a conservative who wants to work with other conservatives in trying to preserve our historically existing Western society from the social engineers who want to remake it from top to bottom by, among other things, importing totally different peoples and cultures, then it is not wise of you to attack the idea of an essential or transcendent truth. The radical skepticism of a Stephen Weinberg is not compatible with the continued existence of any society. Our civilization is not based on statistics but on belief in truth.

This does not take away from the validity of statistics. However, you do not need to attack philosophy in order to argue for statistics.

Best regards,
Lawrence Auster

Dear Lawrence:

I hadn’t noticed philosophers doing diddly-squat to defend the notion of “transcendent truth” over the last 150 years or so. (Theologians, sometimes, but philosophers almost never.) Instead, it seem like the contradictions in the Platonic tradition just feed the nihilism of deconstructionism and post-modernism. As I’ve said elsewhere, intellectuals decided that if Platonism doesn’t jibe with reality, they’ll give up believing in reality.


Dear Steve:

As I’m sure you’re aware, the so-called philosophers of the last 150 years are themselves part of the modern tradition that denies the transcendent truth that is spoken of in the older Western philosophical and religious traditions. Also, no one is talking about uncritically accepting Plato as a totality. But are you so hostile to the Western tradition and its belief in truth that you would even reject the non-doctrinal and commonsensical expression of it, as found in a book such as C.S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man”?

Lawrence Auster

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on May 24, 2003 1:43 AM

It’s embarrassing to find myself in rough agreement with NR’s editor, but I watched Annika play and was smitten (as you can see, I’m now on a first-name basis with her). She exhibited grace under pressure and was a first-class act. In comments at the end of her play she made it clear this was but a one-time thing and even conceded “I was in over my head.” And, “I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was.” Let’s see the feminists make hay out of that! She was a gracious sport throughout. And perhaps not coincidentally, her Q-rating must have just gone through the roof, guaranteeing a major leap in her endorsement value. While I’m generally opposed to male versus female sports competition, the circumstance of the exemption by which she made it into this competition did not constitute women breaking through the combat barrier (something our President, for instance, is blissfully indifferent to). It was a lark and a publicity stunt, with the media predictably biting into it and raising the volume. And in the end, what happened but that nature won out. She finished ahead of eleven(?) players, proving nothing more than that eleven men had a bad day. She also demonstrated that a woman can play a competent game of golf and deserve respect as an athlete, but more than anything underscored why there is a men’s tour AND a women’s tour. In the end it was a relatively harmless way to ventilate our fears and insecurities about male versus female.

Posted by: Dan on May 24, 2003 6:36 PM

Interesting comments from Dan. If it was really only intended as a one-time thing, then there is no harm, excerpt for all the propaganda the left gets out of it, which is not negligible.

However, Lowry’s remark, “If she can play with the big boys, why not?”, suggests something larger afoot. By his logic, if there were one particularly large and strong woman who could handle an M-1 and an 80 pound pack, WHY NOT put her in a combat infantry unit? If there were one exceptionally eloquent and authoritative and pious woman lay preacher, WHY NOT make her priest or bishop? And so on and so on across the board. Without a view of the good that transcends individuals and their wishes, there is no way to stop the ever-increasing demands to break down all boundaries between the sexes, along with other important natural and social boundaries.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on May 24, 2003 6:48 PM

Step by Step, National Review endorses the cultural left. What’s next? Will it be, “Why not have affirmative action?”

Posted by: David on May 25, 2003 2:11 AM

In reply to David, it occurs to me that NR may indeed some day endorse affirmative action, and it will happen for the same reason that racial proportionality in the prestigious precincts of life is already an absolute imperative for modern people.

Here’s my theory of this, though I emphasize that it’s only a theory.

Modern people have become much more consumerist in all aspects of life, including career advancement. They regard their careers less as a matter of work and accomplishment than as a matter of privileges and perks, a cornucopia of wealth and well-being and self-esteem; and graduation from the right school is considered a guaranteed ticket to that. The entry of women into high level careers, with their narcisistic approach to career that is so evident today, also has had much to do with this change of attitude.

So, since today’s upscale people view career more as a glorified consumer item than as an arduous accomplishment, and perhaps not really feeling deep down that they’ve EARNED it, and having some guilt about that, they therefore find the conspicuous absence of black people from the privileged precincts totally morally unacceptable. How can “we,” the privilged white people, enjoy all these great things that give us such a marvelous sense of self-esteem, while blacks are closed out of them? So the elite whites absolutely must have a representive group of blacks present at the banquet with them.

If America were still the way it was 40 years ago, when people viewed work as work and weren’t so spoiled and pampered and consumerist-oriented as they are now, they would not have had the same expectation and demand that all groups must be equally represented in high level jobs.

To put it in a nutshell, today’s white elites’ demand for racial representation of blacks in elite schools and professions is a function of the inordinate privileges and perks enjoyed by those same white elites.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on May 25, 2003 2:48 AM

This is not your father’s National Review! Regarding racial issues, James Lubinskas specifically detailed in American Renaissance how different the magazine is today from 30+ years ago. A pet peeve of mine is their substitution, whenever possible, of the term “skin color” for race, implying that racial differences run no deeper than our respective skin coloring. (Jay Nordlinger was the most recent offender, yesterday during an appearance on Fox News arguing the Jayson Blair case.) As for endorsing affirmative action, at the moment it looks as though the Bush brothers’ “proportionality” approach may be the way in which this slides through. In debating with some National Review types on the Town Hall chat room, some have already endorsed such an approach. This always reminds me of Rush Limbaugh’s regularly reassuring his audience that “we are winning”—“winning” in this case apparently meaning that in a culture moving consistently leftward, Republicans have learned to “adapt” (such as on immigration) and are competing successfully with Democrats, no matter that their positions now bear little resemblance to conservatism.

Posted by: Dan on May 25, 2003 7:03 AM

Back to Annika! The Left will always try to get mileage out of events like this. In this instance I think they failed. I don’t think we need to feel obligated to take a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” position when these happenings occur, and that depending on the circumstances a middle ground is sometimes possible. That having been said, I agree with your analysis of Lowry, despite agreeing with Lowry’s conclusion that she be allowed to play.

Posted by: Dan on May 25, 2003 7:15 AM

What middle ground is possible between Ms. Sorenstam being allowed to play or not being allowed to play, with men? Either she is or isn’t, no?

And then, on what basis do we decide, in the future, to admit a woman to a competition with men in one circumstance, but not in another?

Posted by: Will S. on May 25, 2003 2:15 PM

I have a liberal friend who says “some women” could function as combat soldiers. The rationale he continously uses is women athletes. “Some of those female basketball players could whip a lot of men,” he says.

I remind him that a men’s (or high school boys) basketball team would slaughter a team of women. He won’t hear of it and goes on and on that female athletes “prove” women can be in combat. I remind him, to no avail, that sports are not war. During these conversations, my friend will laugh continously.

The idea of “why not,” goes on and on with one idiocy after another. It never stops.

Posted by: David on May 25, 2003 3:21 PM

For David’s liberal friend, the very idea that there are natural differences between the sexes, differences that matter in themselves and that should matter in a social sense, is as ridiculous as believing in UFOs.

The larger point is that once we admit the principle of individualism to be in all cases the ruling principle of society, then it becomes impossible to maintain the basic institutions of society. To return to my former example, suppose that there was an exceptionally strong woman who could do all the things that combat soldiers do. On the basis of pure liberal individualism, there would be no reason to not to allow this woman from joining a combat unit. But once that one woman is allowed in, all kinds of other things come with her. Does she sleep in the same quarters with the men? Use the same bathroom? What about the men’s ubiquitous use of four-letter expletives? And what about the fact that, as the sole female in an all-male unit, she is under a unique psychological pressure and therefore there needs to be more women with her? And so it goes. As we saw at the Virginia Military Institute, the moment you admit even one female to an all-male institution, all kinds of adjustments must be made to accommodate her. And that in itself begins to transform that institution from what it was before.

The only way to stop this process is to recognize principles that in certain important areas of life transcend individualism. One of those principles is sexual differences.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on May 25, 2003 4:04 PM

As I recall, the Israelis tried using women in combat and reversed course after suffering some miserable failures in morale and operations - on a minor scale. The feminist left in the US (and even more so in Europe) isn’t about to allow any inconvenient facts to get in the way of its agenda, however. Only an absolute military disaster, with thousands of young American women dead, would change the course we are on - through public outrage. I’m not even sure that would be enough, given the public’s clueless assent to open borders despite the largest hostile attack on the mainland US in history - carried out by illegal aliens and others who got in via a lax VISA system. A military defeat isn’t likely to happen anytime soon (at least not until Queen Hillary assumes the throne), as there are still enough competent people in the military to make things work in spite of the ludicrous feminist policies. Absent some great sea-change, it will eventually happen as the left continues to chisel away at what remains - helped along by so-called conservatives like President Bush and others.

Posted by: Carl on May 25, 2003 4:53 PM

I wouldn稚 mind Anika playing every week. In fact if she played every week, then the idiotic comments from the intelligentsia would quickly cease. Instead if any woman decides to play next year, then here we go again. Here痴 a sample of the idiocy from our local paper in Houston:
1) Idiotic History: 典he first women to play a PGA Tour event in 58 years Sounds better than the second woman in 59 years.
2) Idiotic Comparisons: 展ell, no on said Tiger Woods ought to be banned Several have compared Sorenstam to Woods since Tiger is the first 鼎abla-Asian to play on the PGA. However, Woods wasn稚 the first minority or even African American to play golf on the PGA. Actually, Sorenstam wasn稚 the first woman so the comparison still holds. Certainly, Woods did provide a first in winning and winning and winning several majors. Many of the pundits sound like she won the tournament. Of course, no one ever said Tiger Woods should be banned because he earned his way in the PGA by consistently beating other none Cabla-Asian men.
3) Idiotic Denials: 典his wasn稚 the publicity stunt Nick Price said it was. True, that Ms. Sorenstam may not have been seeking increased publicity. However, I doubt that the sponsors of the Colonial,the PGA or the LPGA weren稚 thinking about the extra publicity. Anyway, this denial would not be so bad if the pundits didn稚 contradict themselves with-in seconds or a few sentences, 溺assive crowds or 展omen痴 golf ranked as high on the TV viewing screen as infomercials. But now, won稚 you watch?
4) Idiotic Conclusions: 鉄ome learned exactly why some PGA players felt so threatened by Sorenstam痴 presence here. They are threatened because she is a legitimate threat on any golf course, any time. Anika finished 96 out of 109 players and missed the cut. Missing the cut and finishing near the bottom doesn稚 sound very threatening.

Posted by: Theron on May 25, 2003 5:08 PM

To Will: the middle ground with Annika is that I have no great problem with her being the second female in 58 years to play in a PGA event, especially having gained entrance via an exemption—exemptions normally used, among other things, for local old-timers unable to play at a competitive level anymore. I draw the line at the idea of women playing side by side with the men as a regular practice, though this is moot as Annika is perhaps the only one who would qualify at this level and we see where she finished, even though playing decently (in other words, which women COULD qualify?) It will be up to each tournament in concert with the governing body of golf, the PGA, to decide whether to go this route, but frankly I think the market will work its will. The novelty is over. In fact, Serena Williams of tennis fame was asked today about playing against the men and her answer was an emphatic “no.” The women themselves fully understand that they have a much better deal with things as they are.

Posted by: Dan on May 25, 2003 7:37 PM

Why? A commentator mentioned his friend laughs while asking “why not.” The commentator could ask his friend “why.” At some point, the friend will either stop laughing or change the subject or concede the point or all three. Be careful not to allow your friend to change the subject by answering with a question.

The commentator’s problem seems to be a problem that some of us traditionalists have. We are not clear on what it is we stand for. We are therefore unable to articulate the answer to “why not.”

Transcendent truth is a concept that is fundamental to the ideas on this site. Can anyone suggest a book that explains this concept?

Posted by: P Murgos on May 26, 2003 11:32 AM

I don’t know of any one book that discusses the transcendent the way it’s discussed here. It’s an understanding that’s embedded in Western and Christian culture and can be found in many books. Some that come to mind offhand are Plato’s Republic, The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, and the works of Eric Voegelin (though he is exasperatingly difficult).

As Voegelin said, the search for truth begins in resistance against the disorders of one’s own time. We may not have thought previously about “transcendent truth,” we may just have taken certain values in our society for granted. But when we see those values being systematically destroyed, and no one effectively defending them, then we begin to wonder, what is wrong here, what is missing in our society that it no longer has the ability to defend itself? And the search goes on from there.

The transcendent dimension of existence includes not just the spiritual or religious, but also the natural and the social. All three provide the transcendent structure of meaning, which modern man has rejected in various ways.

A good example of the transcendent is the flag. If it’s just a “piece of cloth,” why should it be held in any special reverence? What makes the flag special is transcendent, a value that cannot be directly experienced, but which is nevertheless real.

Take our present subject of women in the military or women in men’s sports.

In reality, there is a female essence and a male essence. There is also an essential character to the military profession. The female essence is fundamentally incompatible with the military profession. Women do not belong in military forces, period. Unless one has such a perception of the essential characteristics of things that transcends mere utility, it is not possible for one to resist effectively the rational-seeming, utilitarian, and democratic demands for the feminization of the military. But such resistance is not so simple, because when we speak of an essential reality (of man and woman, or of the family, or of country, or of the military), we are speaking of something that cannot be directly seen or experienced—even though it provides the very structuring order of society and of our existence.

My pamphlet, Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation, discusses these ideas and applies them to the immigration problem.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on May 26, 2003 1:54 PM

Something “transcends” something if it goes beyond it. When you say the good, beautiful and true is transcendent it means that when you speak of those things you aren’t just speaking of what you think or like or believe, you’re speaking of something that has a reality that doesn’t depend on your attitudes or thoughts.

To draw on one of Mr. Auster’s examples, to say masculinity and femininity are transcendent is to say that those things aren’t just categorizations that we make up. They’re realities that can’t be reduced without remainder to how we think about things. If we ignore them or try to redefine them arbitrarily, in accordance with how we think the world ought to be, it won’t work.

Posted by: Jim Kalb on May 26, 2003 3:04 PM

I hope you don’t get the impression that I lose my debates with my liberal friends. Actually, I usually win. I once sent an article on immigration by Chilton Williamson to my liberal friend mentioned above. I challenged him to refute what Williamson had written. He could not do so and admitted that he had to agree with the article.

I debate my liberal friends with points I picked up from Lawrence Auster’s pamphlet, Huddled Cliches. They are unable to refute the facts, grow silent and change the subject. On the “National Question,” if you take them on and challenge them to refute your position, they can’t.

With “Women in the Military,” they can still say, “We beat Iraq.” With immigration, some of them realize things may not turn out well.

When I challenge my liberal friends to stop supporting politicians who champion idiotic policies, they say, “I’m a party man. I support the Democratic party. Now of course, the leaders of both parties are the same on this issue. The results can be seen.

Posted by: David on May 27, 2003 12:49 AM


I’ve enjoyed your comments, but I fail to see why so many, even on the right, are willing to see one the the last bastions of maculinity destroyed. The co-edization (to coin a term) of exclusively male clubs, organizations, and occupations has a clear effect (so clear it seems to reflect a law of science) — men flee from the club, organization, or occupation, or lose interest, and women take over. Look at the character of our workplaces, our schools, our culture and politics. Masculinity is being routed. To paraphrase Burke, now is the time for all good men — and women — to come to the defense of… well, men.

[Oh, and to get a full treatment of this topic, see _Sexual Suicide_ by George Gilder]

Posted by: Brendan Kenny on May 27, 2003 5:22 PM

Thanks to Mr. Auster and Mr. Kalb for their responses. A goal some might share is to become familiar with the principles here and then to use the knowledge by spreading it to other Websites. Recently, Mr. Auster has illustrated how effective this knowledge can be. He caused much discussion over at FrontPage and Lucianne. It is logical to conclude some minds now are either changed or unsure about their former beliefs. With many people doing as Mr. Auster does, there is hope change will come.

Posted by: P Murgos on May 28, 2003 10:40 PM
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