FRONT ROYAL, VA — When Al Matt asked me some ten years ago to take over Joe Sobran’s column in The Wanderer, I made it clear that, while I’d be honored to have my column appear in the same space, there was no way I could pretend to replace Joe Sobran.
No one could replace Joe Sobran. And now you won’t have to: You can have the original in time to celebrate Christmas with the latest collections of his columns and essays (Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society and Hustler: The Clinton Legacy.)
Reading Joe Sobran is like reading Shakespeare; savoring each line, followed by a string of accolades like those wine reviews (“hint of the cask, with a swarthy aftertaste of the husk of peach….”). I’ve spent these past few months enjoying an essay or two a day, because Sobran’s vintage writing, like fine wine, must be sipped, contemplated, and appreciated.
Joe memorized all of Shakespeare, but I can’t memorize all of Joe. So I welcome these volumes that truly form an indispensable part of the historical and critical record of an intellectual giant. Joe read his favorite books again and again, and you’ll feel the same way when you begin reading these. Here and there you’ll recognize a pivotal passage. I sure have.
Here’s one: “Most people merely drift with their times, and they readily accept evil so long as it wears the guise of normality and convention.” Yes, and while history drags its anchor ever further toward the evil abyss, most folks still feel right at home. Not Joe.
Joe’s gaze rested on higher truths, but his anchor was always lodged in solid ground, beyond the times and above them. His clarity of vision and his simplicity of expression make writing seem so easy. Again and again, reading Joe, one realizes, “ there’s simply no better way to say it.”
Because his writing is timeless, now, more than ever, we should read it. While Subtracting Christianity surveys a vast realm of literature, theology, psychology, and philosophy, Hustler reveals those principles, and their perversion, in action.
With the Clintons, Joe watched publicly sanctioned evil sink to new depths: “Never mind adultery, perjury, high crimes, and misdemeanors: human behavior just doesn’t get any more rotten than that,” he wrote of Bill Clinton’s lustful crimes. “Move over, Iago.”That’s why Joe’s view of the Clintonian 1990s are as timely today as his views of Shakespeare: Human nature never changes, and the Devil is lazy: He always tempts the same old way.
Summarize Sobran? Impossible. How does one “ explain” how he eviscerates feminists? “Mrs. Clinton is playing a curious role,” he writes. “ She is the senior wife in what amounts to a walk-in harem. As long as she retains her primacy, she appears not to be jealous of the other women. . . .”
Now we know those “other women” make her seethe. But only because she lost.
And yet feminists applaud her — and even her rapist husband. But wait — didn’t feminists create the charge of “sexual harassment”? Yes indeed. But in its uniquely politicized form, it is a charge levied only at ideological enemies. Bill Clinton, Carlos Danger (Mr. Huma Abedin), and their sordid ilk are merely exemplary public servants attacked by bitter losers (yes, like their wives).
By the time Joe wraps up “sexual harassment,” little remains except for the empty husk of a febrile epithet designed to absolve the left of any blame for feminism’s floundering failures.
Come to think of it, in the fatuous feminist mind, Donald Trump’s decisive defeat of Hillary undoubtedly constitutes the greatest instance of “sexual harassment” in the annals of crime.
Hustler: The Clinton L…
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Too bad Joe isn’t here to say it better.
A welcome dimension of Subtracting Christianity introduces Joe’s childhood and the very concrete experiences (rather than fanciful imaginations) that led him to love books, consider politics curiously, and embrace his faith seriously. Here he outlines the coordinates by which he steered his mind, soul, and pen over the years.
And they are surprisingly timeless: Fidel Castro’s death brings to mind Joe’s musings about the liberals who fawned over the bellicose butcher for decades: “I don’t think I’d have really minded an out-and-out Communist who admitted being one. But the liberals who equivocated about it, jeering at anti-Communism while never declaring themselves, affecting a superior irony to the most basic moral challenge of modern politics — them I despised.”
And immigration, and the blind eye our bishops turn to the rule of law and the crimes of illegal aliens? “A few years ago, when I noticed that words like ‘nativism’ have no counterparts on the other side of the equation, I coined the word ‘alienism’ to fill the gap…. We have reached a point where alienation and envy have actually become normalized and idealized, especially when they occur among social minorities.”
Alas, our complaisant bishops soothe the suffering of minorities by stoking their envy as though it were a precious natural right. Ah, so many sins that our shepherds can no longer condemn because the wrong people (pro- abortion pols and illegal aliens) just keep on committing them!
Reading Joe stirs more than a modicum of nostalgia, but he would call it a sense of history.
About that culture, Joe observes, “secularized culture, being negative, is only legalistic. It can’t move the heart or filled the imagination. It merely encourages grievances about an ever-widening range of supposed civil wrongs; under the general heading of ‘discrimination,’ all social relations become legal and political relations.”What begins as a waltz down Memory Lane quickly morphs into a vivid MRI that reveals all the fractures and fissures of what is peddled as “the current wisdom” amidst the cacophony of the secular culture.
About that culture, Joe observes, “secularized culture, being negative, is only legalistic. It can’t move the heart or filled the imagination. It merely encourages grievances about an ever-widening range of supposed civil wrongs; under the general heading of ‘discrimination,’ all social relations become legal and political relations.”
Hmmm. What was that Shakespeare said about lawyers?
Joe would know.
That’s what happens when we “ subtract Christianity.” But why would our secular age attempt such cultural vivisection? We are never afraid to read Socrates or Aristotle, says Joe, and we aren’t tempted to resist them as we are tempted to resist Christ.
“But what greater proof of his divinity could there be than the fact that he is still resisted, even hated, after 2,000 years? Nobody hates Julius Caesar anymore; it’s pretty hard to even to hate Attila the Hun, who left a lot of hard feelings in his day. But the world still hates Christ and His Church.”
Joe loved Christ and His Church, and many in “the world” hated Joe for it. Some still do, among them a few who wallowed in war and cash and corruption and lies. Their careers are now ruined, their credibility shredded, but their invective was as violent as it was vile: to them, Joe was an “anti-Semite,” a word whose definition the leftist dialectic has turned upside down. “An anti-Semite used to mean a man who hated Jews,” he observes. “Now it means a man who is hated by Jews.”
This unhappy (and quite ecumenical) band of haters insisted on branding Pat Buchanan, Russell Kirk, Joe Sobran, and anyone else dissenting from their foreign policy priorities as anti-Semites, as casually as Catholic bishops lapse lazily into tarring all whites (minus themselves, one assumes) as “racists.” There is no definition, only a disgruntled scowl, hoisted with ample contempt and certified by a certain sense of unassailable superiority.
Joe is gone now but the credibility of his critics is in ruins, the chaos spawned by their illegal wars now engulfing the Middle East and their heroes in hiding or skulking at the edges of public life in deep dudgeon.
Time has vindicated Joe Sobran’s work, and you can celebrate that victory by reading him yourself. It will make for a Merry Christmas indeed.
Reprinted with permission from Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.