In the Corner it is reported that Joseph Sobran has died, a lot of ailments involved. I have mixed emotions about Sobran, based on reading him off and on in National Review and other places. Over time he became one of those strange-uncle paleocons. But his critiques of liberalism, especially in the late ’80s to early ’90s, were penetrating and well thought out.
Sobran was, and could have remained, a major conservative writer. But something happened to him, namely Israel obsession happened to him, and, as has been the case with other talented and untalented conservatives, it took him over and wrecked him.
Once a person comes to believe that Jewish evil is at the center of the world, and that this Jewish evil is being systematically covered up, and that anyone who speaks the “truth” about this Jewish evil is destroyed, which means that the Jewish evil is all powerful and that there is no recourse against it, that person has imbibed all the incredients sufficient to wreck his intellect.
And since he resented Israel so bitterly, he also resented America, Israel’s friend. Which led him to embrace anti-Americanism. Which led him to express high admiration for Ramsay Clark, one of the premier leftist anti-Americans of our time. (As I’ve said, when you are led by hate, not love, you will support anyone who shares your hate.)
But Israel and Jews weren’t Sobran’s only problem. Sobran became a liberal Christian fundamentalist on immigration, as seen by a sentence he wrote which I called the stupidest sentence ever written:
“I can’t imagine Jesus standing on the border to turn them back.”
Though perhaps Sobran’s willingness to see America overrun by Mexicans was triggered by the anti-Americanism which was triggered by his anti-Israelism.
On the same subject, see also this and this.
On the positive side, there was Sobran’s eulogy to William Buckley, of which I said that it “shows both men in their best light.”
Also worth reading and re-reading is Sobran’s superb column in which he argued that Jesus was not a liberal. Unfortunately, I am unable to find this article either in my computer or on the Web. (Perhaps when Sobran decided that Jesus was really an open-borderite he withdrew his earlier article that showed Jesus as the ultimate opposite of a liberal.)
And here is what is probably Sobran’s best article, “Pensees: Notes for the reactionary of tomorrow,” published in National Review back in 1985, when love and gratitude, not resentment and bitterness, still seemed to be predominant in him. (Note: the web page lacks margins and spreads out the text too much; you may want to copy the article into Word for easier reading.)
LA adds (Oct 12, 2010):
I forgot to mention Sobran’s coinage of the excellent term alienism, for which I have repeatedly praised him. Unfortunately, just as Sobran in his decay turned into the opposite of what he had once been in so many facets, he also embraced the very alienism he had once criticized, as argued in this exchange at VFR from 2006 with the then-frequent commenter Tom S.:
- end of initial entry -
Tom S. writes:
Your comments on Sobran reminded me how much the conservative movement lost when Sobran went over the edge. He was once a fine writer and thinker, and had he not gone off the deep end, he probably would be editor of National Review today, and might have saved that magazine from its current juvenile irrelevance. But he’s now a lost cause. I recently checked out some of his writing, and, apart from the almost insane anti-semitism, the quality is very low. Sobran has sacrificed everything political he once believed in on the altar of Jew-hatred, and he is hardly recognizable as the same writer who penned the philosophically sophisticated Pensees back in 1985. Just as John Derbyshire has allowed radical Darwinism to poison his writing, turning him into a sort of minor-league Richard Dawkins, Sobran has allowed his anti-Semitism to turn him into a Father Coughlin without the radio show. Alienated from his country, alienated from its history, alienated from the political movement that he helped to create, the man who coined the memorable term “Alienism” has ironically become an object lesson in alienation. It goes to show how resentment and monomania can warp a once fine intellect.
Indeed, the Sobran of today no longer even has the belief in boundaries and judgmentalism that the former Sobran brought out so effectively in his article on how Jesus was not a liberal. The anarchist libertarian Sobran of today thinks that all sovereign power to defend boundaries and enforce judgments is evil. He thinks the U.S. Constitution—the original Constitution, that is—is criminal. And he doesn’t want us to do anything to restrict immigration. Like a deeply alienated leftist, he direct his own judgmentalism solely against those—particularly the Israelis—who exercise power in legitimate ways to preserve their society from enemies.
[end of 2006 exchange]
Paul K. writes:
Reading his obituary at the Corner, I was startled to learn that Sobran was only 64, not much older than I. It seems he had been failing in health and spirit for years.
I was a fan of his in the 1980s and was particularly impressed by the extended essay on communism he wrote for National Review’s 30th anniversary issue. Though I didn’t agree with everything he had to say, I found him interesting enough to subscribe to his newsletter for a while. It was about ten years ago that I got so annoyed with his tendentious criticism of Israel and support for open borders that I let my subscription lapse.
While I respect intelligence, I have noticed that it has its pitfalls. One of them is a tendency toward obsession, and there were a number of subjects on which Sobran seemed to have lost his perspective. One was Israel and Zionism, of course. Another was Shakespeare. He would regularly write columns on his conviction that William Shakespeare was, in fact, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, to the point that I was ready to scream, “Enough already! Who cares?” He published a book on the subject, “Alias Shakespeare.” He also regarded Abraham Lincoln as one of the great tyrants of history, and wrote a book titled “King Lincoln” that remains unpublished. I understand the conservative critique of Lincoln, but that anyone who had read a biography of the man could consider him a fiend is beyond me.
Still, there was a time that his writing influenced my thinking and I still admire his bon mots, of which the following are a sample:
“The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that the pickpocket doesn’t get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.”
“In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”
“The U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government.”
“‘Need’ now means wanting someone else’s money. ‘Greed’ means wanting to keep your own. ‘Compassion’ is when a politician arranges the transfer.”
“Liberals have a new wish every time their latest wish is granted. Conservatives should make them spell out their principles and ideals. Instead of doing this, conservatives allow liberals to pursue incremental goals without revealing their ultimate destination. So, thanks to the negligence of their opponents, liberals control the terms of every debate by always demanding ‘more’ while never defining ‘enough.’ The predictable result is that they always get more, and it’s never enough.”
Roger G. writes:
A brilliant article by Sobran on the Constitution.
I note that the article is undated, a common problem at websites.
Dedrick L. writes:
I don’t undertstand your dislike for Mr Sobran. How was he anti-Semitic? He was critical of the Jewish influence on US foreign policy. Unable to tolerate even one out of a hundred columnists to be contrarian, liberal Jews called for his head and got it due to Buckley’s cowardly obsequiousness.
How exactly does refusing to kowtow to political correctness (which is precisely what the ban on identifying group cultural behavior is) make one a bad conservative?
If you don’t see the difference between criticizing Israel, and obsessively condemning Israel as an evil oppressor state for defending itself from mortal enemies, then you are at best a moron, at worst an anti-Jew, and in either case not welcome to post at VFR. Goodby.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 30, 2010 10:36 PM | Send