The great columnist, Joe Sobran, has died at the age of 64. Sobran wrote for the National Review back when it was interesting, largely because of him. He’s in that handful of my greatest influences. His syndicated column was popular in the 1980s, but that went away with some well-publicized (and very unfair, in my estimation as a 25+ year reader of his columns) judgments by William F. Buckley. Awful attacks followed by writers such as the insufferable David Frum.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Sobran wandered off the conservative plantation into anarcho-libertarianism about the time of Buckley’s attacks (politically, I’m moving in Joe Sobran’s footsteps, 20 years behind). He wrote plaintively of his alienation from the militaristic William F. Buckley school of conservatism that still informs Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity:
Surely we all wanted the same things! … [I]t was only toward the end of more than two happy decades there that I began to realize that we didn’t all want the same things after all. When it happened, it was like learning, after a long and placid marriage, that your spouse is in love with someone else, and has been all along.
Like Muggeridge, Sobran was a great observer of the modern landscape. He wrote hilariously of Clintonian rottenness and with fierce moral insight into topics like sodomy and abortion. Always an inspiringly gifted writer, his style evolved into the very definition of “pithy.” He was staunchly Catholic, especially in latter years (I hope that he found the Lord). He wrote a column once that spoke of how he came back to his faith because he pondered Jesus’s words. No one has ever spoken as Christ spoke. Next time you read Jesus’s words, step back and think about that. The depth, the authority, the insight… it’s amazing. Who but God speaks this way? Almost every line Jesus speaks is a memorable line that rings with power, even two thousand years later. You begin to understand why his hearers were so often amazed and silenced by his authority and wisdom.
For that insight alone I’ll always be grateful to Joe Sobran. May he rest in peace.
10/2 addendum: In reading some of the remembrances, it’s interesting that many fine writers had the same thought I always did after reading a Sobran column: “I wish I could write like that.” I also should underscore that it was Sobran who first caused me to question my views on war. He helped me realize that opposition to (most) war was not only the domain of unhinged left-wingers, but also serious men on the right who found both moral and political reasons to oppose it. As has been said many times, “war is the health of the state.”