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 Logic, Anyone? 

December 18, 2006 
LogicI’ve made a career of writing about politics, but I’ve never had political ambitions myself. It just never crossed my mind to go into politics (unless you count the short time that I was a candidate for vice president). Just the opposite. I wanted politics to leave my family and me alone. Today's 
column is "Logic, Anyone?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he 
writes them.Communism, the ultimate form of politics, horrified me.

LogicMy hero was Bill Buckley, who went into politics only to mock it when he ran his hilarious campaign for mayor of New York in 1965. I imitated him and dreamed of writing for his magazine, National Review. That dream came true only seven years later, in 1972. I was terribly green, but Bill and his team were extremely kind and encouraging. They nursed me along until I was able to make an independent career, before I finally left the magazine in 1993. It was an unpleasant departure, but I still have happy dreams of working there.

LogicJeffrey Hart, my old friend and senior colleague at National Review, has written a splendid history of the magazine, The Making of the American Conservative Mind. I can eagerly recommend it to everyone, but I wonder if anyone can enjoy it as much as I do. It brings back so many dear memories I can hardly read it without weeping. For me Jeff’s portrait of old James Burnham, our gentle wizard, is by itself well worth the price of the book. No novelist could have brought Jim so vividly back to life.

LogicI can find only one striking omission: the hilarity Jeff himself brought to the office. Bill Buckley was justly famous for his wit, but Jeff’s humor was a quick, explosive, diaphragm-spraining, laugh-till-you-choke kind of thing. After wiping the tears away I’d wonder how he did it. His jokes were sudden as lightning and, though highly literate, not necessarily inhibited by good taste. He could have gotten us all arrested.

LogicOf my own writing, Jeff once observed, “Your real subject is bad faith.” That was typically perceptive of him. My instinct, trained by reading Bill Buckley, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, has always been to hold people to what they say, to examine the implications of their words, and to ask if they can really mean it. In short, to demand consistency.

LogicSome people find this a highly offensive habit, like spitting tobacco juice on their floor. I’ve never understood this reaction. As far as I’m concerned, if you say something, you should be prepared to stand by it. If you say you believe in racial or sexual equality, don’t turn around and tell me you want the government to favor one race or sex over another. Choose any premise you like, but stick to it; or don’t act persecuted if you’re caught in double-talk.

[Breaker quote for Logic, Anyone?: The sin of consistency]LogicUnfortunately, human nature being what it is, people can get furious when you catch them in inconsistency, which is often a sign of their own hypocrisy — “bad faith” indeed. So they often accuse you of “hate” — racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, or (the latest cant-term) homophobia. I started out nailing liberal hypocrisy, but more recently I’ve given conservatives the same treatment. I have about four friends left.

LogicIn the mid 1980s, long before neoconservatives became a household word, I saw, and wrote, that this crowd was trying to steer the United States into war with the Arabs. Here, alas, Jeff, who otherwise writes very generously of me, gets it wrong when he says that I’d been “bitten by the anti-Semitic bug.” In fact, I’d become disillusioned with Zionism, no longer believed that the state of Israel was our “reliable ally” (the Pollard spy case took care of that one), and was worried about my two teenage sons: there was talk of reinstating the draft, and I didn’t want them dying in the desert.

LogicSure enough, some of the neocons were soon accusing me of anti-Semitism and even the kind of talk that “led to the Holocaust.” They’ve turned out to be implacable enemies, unappeased even after getting (in spite of my heroic efforts) two wars in the Middle East. More recently they’ve called me “anti-American”! I must have affronted their deep patriotism.

LogicWell, you can’t please everyone. But if you demand consistency, you can come pretty close to offending everyone. I sometimes have my doubts that Socrates would have lasted very long in today’s atmosphere. But at least my boys are still alive.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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