The Real News of the Month

May 2005
Volume 12, Number 5

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> Might, Right, and the American State
  -> Publisher's Note
  -> The End of "Progress"
  -> Old Man Shakespeare
  -> Thanks
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
List of Columns Reprinted in This Issue



Might, Right, and the American State
(page 1)

     The great literary critic Northrop Frye begins his 
essay "The Problem of Spiritual Authority in the 
Nineteenth Century" with a startlingly astute political 

     "The source of actual or 'temporal' authority in 
society is seldom hard to locate. It is always in the 
near vicinity of whatever one pays one's taxes to. As 
long as it can be believed that might is right, and that 
the tax-collecting power is not to be questioned, there 
is no separate problem of spiritual authority. But the 
thesis that might is right, even when as carefully 
rationalized as it is in Hobbes, has seldom been regarded 
as much more than an irresponsible paradox."

      Frye goes on to show how various political 
philosophies, from Milton to Matthew Arnold and William 
Morris, have dealt with the problem of justifying the 
state in terms of "spiritual authority." The question is 
rarely addressed now, and a vacuum has been filled, as a 
practical matter, by secular universities, which supply 
the values by which modern society is kept in "so 
constant a state of revolution and metamorphosis." But in 
earlier times -- Christian times -- the West was deeply 
concerned with defining the state, its just powers, and 
its moral limits.

     Today the very idea of such limits is nearly 
defunct. The state just keeps growing, always claiming 
more of its subjects, but even those who resist its 
growth rarely offer, or demand, a stabilizing rationale. 
"Standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'" -- William 
Buckley's famous phrase of 1955 -- is still as near to a 
contemporary conservative credo as we have.

     "Stop"? Stop what? Just what is "history" doing 
wrong? Most conservatives have a long list of particular 
objections, but these are rather miscellaneous and 
contradictory. In their way, conservatives themselves 
have encouraged the expansion of the warfare state, while 
grumbling about the concomitant swelling of the welfare 
state, their chief complaint about which, nowadays, is 
that it isn't being managed on sound Republican 
principles. Liberalism is now equally devoid of 

     {{ Nearly all the political players now agree in 
practice that might -- especially American might, the 
might of the U.S. Government -- is right. A government is 
above all an economy, taking from some, giving to others, 
threatening (and sometimes delivering) destruction to 
still others, mostly abroad, while assuming 
responsibility for prosperity at home. The more godless 
it becomes, the more authority it assumes; the more 
aggressive it becomes, the more it insists its purposes 
are defensive. Its watchwords are "defense," "security," 
"safety," "protection," and "health," public and 
national. }}

     It's interesting to note that the Canadian Frye's 
formidable list of political philosophers is drawn almost 
entirely from English literature (Rousseau gets a brief 
mention). Though the U.S. Government is the most gigantic 
state in human history, it has curiously lacked a single 
important American theorist since its infancy as a 
constitutional republic.

     Passing strange. Socialist, Communist, Fascist, 
Zionist, and many other regimes have had their 
philosophers; but the American regime still awaits even a 
disinterested, realistic Aristotelian description of its 
actual constitution (as distinct from its obsolete 
written one), let alone an attempt to justify the 
fantastic scope of its present powers.

     To be sure, America is capable of vehement 
self-congratulation; but this usually takes the form of 
empty democratic slogans. What is totally absent is any 
serious attempt to show that the American regime, as it 
now exists, meets the test of reason.

Publisher's Note
(page 2)

     I am pleased to announce that we have just released 
a Compact Disc of Joe Sobran's first book, SINGLE ISSUES: 
Press, New York, 1983).

     This CD is essentially an electronic photograph of 
the 1983 book, which has been out of print for many 
years. There is no audio on the CD -- just a picture of 
each of 189 pages of the book plus front matter and the 
dust jacket. You will need a computer to print out the CD 
or to view it on your monitor.

     SINGLE ISSUES is a selection of Joe's essays written 
from 1975 through 1982 for HUMAN LIFE REVIEW. Some of the 
15 articles included are: "Nothing to Look At: Perversity 
and Public Amusements"; "Bogus Sex: Reflections on 
Homosexual Claims"; "The Established Irreligion"; "On 
Imposing One's Views"; "In Loco Parentis"; "Razing the 
Past"; "The Value Free Society"; and "'Secular Humanism' 
or 'The American Way.'" (A full listing of the contents 
can be seen on the website at

     It is a wonderful compilation of Joe's writings on 
culture, society, the family, and right-to-life issues.

     The CD is for sale for just $12 but is FREE as our 
gift to you if you renew your subscription. Also, you 
might consider giving a gift subscription of SOBRAN'S to 
a friend, colleague, family member, or priest and we will 
include the CD as a bonus.

     You can arrange renewals and gifts on-line at, by telephone (800-513-5053), or by using 
the subscription forms enclosed with this issue.


     A kind contributor has made it possible for us to 
assemble and box complete sets of SOBRAN'S from our first 
issue in September 1994 through December 2004. This 
"Ten/Four" Set (10 years plus four issues from 1994) 
totals 122 issues of SOBRAN'S. 

     We have a limited number of these sets -- which are 
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     We are offering a bargain price for this complete 
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     Be aware that this set is simply loose newsletters 
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the priceless words and wisdom of Joe Sobran.

     Finally I would like to thank you for your cards and 
prayers as Joe recuperates from foot surgery. Keep them 
coming. They are a tremendous help to him.

                               Sincerely yours in Christ,

                               Fran Griffin

The End of "Progress"
(page 3)

     In its coverage of the Catholic Church, the NEW YORK 
TIMES never lets you down. Its banner headline announced, 
"German Cardinal Is Chosen as Pope," but a sub-headline 
signaled the theme of the story: "In a Celebrating Crowd, 
Some Show Concern over His Doctrine."

     "His" doctrine? Is Benedict XVI adding idiosyncratic 
beliefs of his own to the ancient creeds?

     Not exactly. By the fifth paragraph of the story, 
the paper reported that "some" in the applauding crowd at 
St. Peter's were expressing "reservations about his 
doctrinal rigidity." One American student worried that he 
"might scare people away." Another spectator called his 
election "the gravest error."

     The story quoted nobody in the vast, applauding 
crowd who thought Benedict might be a good pope. The rest 
of the account was peppered with ominous words like 
"harsh," "rigid," "divisive," and "contentious."

     Count on the TIMES to seek out, and feature, 
Catholic malcontents to comment on events in the Church 
-- as it did consistently throughout the long papacy of 
this pope's friend and mentor John Paul II, whose 
orthodoxy (or "doctrinal rigidity") it likewise deplored.

     Once again liberals, inside and outside the Church, 
are alarmed that the Pope is too Catholic. An aging lost 
generation of Catholic liberals, full of false hopes 
since the Second Vatican Council, can't shake the idea 
that they are the Wave of the Future, and that the 
Church's destiny is to adopt their destructive "reforms." 
But Benedict's quick election means that liberalism's day 
is over.

     Benedict promises -- or, from the liberals' point of 
view, threatens -- to reaffirm and strengthen the 
orthodoxy and traditions they have hoped were doomed. The 
College of Cardinals has witnessed the bad fruits of 
headlong change: the weakening of the faith of ordinary 
Catholics, the corruption of the liturgy, plunging Mass 
attendance, and the infiltration of the seminaries and 
the priesthood by homosexuals. A consequence has been one 
of the most explosive scandals in the entire history of 
the Church, the sexual abuse of boys by priests.

     More "progressivism," anyone? The Church of Rome has 
chosen not to go the way of the Church of England or its 
American branch, the Episcopal Church. We have seen the 
"progressive" future, and it doesn't work.

     C.S. Lewis, who died in 1963, just as the Second 
Vatican Council was beginning, was the great apologist 
for "mere Christianity." By this he meant the irreducible 
core of belief shared by all who believed that Jesus 
Christ was the Son of God. Lewis carefully avoided 
discussing the doctrines that divided Catholics and 
Protestants; as a devout Anglican, he assumed that "mere" 
Christianity was secure within the Church of England.

     But as the Catholic writer Joseph Pearce points out, 
events have proved otherwise. By the end of his life, 
Lewis was warning against the proposed ordination of 
women and other fashionable changes; today his church has 
long since adopted most of them, marginalizing many of 
the doctrines he considered essential to any form of 
Christianity worthy of the name. As one wag quipped only 
a few years after Lewis's death, the Church of England is 
so liberal that "nobody from the Pope to Mao Zedong can 
say with any assurance that he is =not= an Anglican."

     Benedict XVI means to see to it that everyone will 
know confidently whether or not he is a Catholic. But 
liberals consider the mere definition of Catholic 
teaching -- the elimination of mush -- a form of 
intolerance, or "doctrinal rigidity."

     This Pope has always known that Catholic doctrine is 
not "his," or anyone else's, to change. The secular 
world, including many within the Church, will always 
passionately urge that this doctrine be updated to suit 
the times, rather than just restated in terms 
intelligible to the times. As G.K. Chesterton reminds us, 
there is a world of difference between restating and 
updating. It's the difference between putting old wine in 
new wineskins and putting new wine in the old wineskins.

     Liberalism is no longer new, but that's not what's 
wrong with it. The trouble is that it's false, was always 
false, and never offered anything that could be permanent 
and sustaining. It survives only as the corrosive residue 
of another time, a fad now expiring, which our new Pope 
seems determined to expunge from the Church.

Old Man Shakespeare
(pages 4-5)

     Even my friends wonder why I'm so impassioned about 
proving that "Shakespeare" was really the Earl of Oxford, 
Edward de Vere. They're too polite to roll their eyes, 
but I can sense that they think I'm in the grip of an 
eccentric obsession. What difference can it make to 
sensible people? We have the plays, don't we? What else 

     Let me try to explain. Only Shakespeare conveys the 
full pathos of writing. When I read the Sonnets, I come 
close to tears. Here is the genius who wrote HAMLET -- 
the only man who ever lived who even =could= have written 
it -- and he feels his life has been a failure! What on 
earth would success be like?

     When my friend Sam Francis died recently, I 
reflected that Sam might have understood this. Despite 
his talent, and despite having his share of admirers, I 
always felt that Sam knew the loneliness of writing as 
Oxford had known it.

     So in a way I'm simply trying to correct a 
historical injustice, like a crusading lawyer who wants 
to prove that an executed man, long dead, was innocent 
after all. I want =justice= for Oxford! And I can't rest 
as long as the world denies him the glory that is due 

     These thoughts come to mind after reading a new 
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, by one Bertram Fields (who, as it 
happens, is a lawyer). It breaks no new ground and is 
even, by my lights, behind the curve. Though it mentions 
me a few times, I don't think Fields really understands 
the materials he's dealing with. He not only makes 
arguments that have been made before, but also makes a 
few that should have been abandoned long ago. They get us 

     I hope to write at least one more book on this 
question, from an angle that has been largely neglected: 
Shakespeare, when we first hear of him, is already in his 
prime. I touched on this point in these pages four issues 
ago when I argued that the two long poems, VENUS AND 
ADONIS (1593) and THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1594), are mature 
works, not the "early" ones they've been commonly assumed 
to be. (This article is also available at

     This means that when "Shakespeare" made his public 
debut as a writer, he had already achieved full mastery. 
The academic scholars have gotten the whole story wrong. 
They have the poet arriving in London from Stratford 
around 1590 and learning his craft as an 
actor-playwright, then taking time out for fancy poetry 
during the plague years. This narrative requires them to 
twist or ignore at least six key facts.

     ITEM: Thomas Nashe referred to Hamlet and his 
"tragical speeches" in 1589. But this date is too early 
for the scholars' story; William, son of Stratford, 
couldn't have written such an accomplished work before 
about 1600. So Nashe must have been referring to an 
earlier Hamlet play, an "ur-HAMLET." No shred of this 
supposed play has ever turned up, which hasn't stopped 
the scholars from treating it as solid fact.

     ITEM: In 1591, the great poet Edmund Spenser 
published verses lamenting that "our pleasant Willy," a 
brilliant writer of comedy who imitates Nature herself 
and from whose pen honey and nectar flow, had recently 
been "idle" and absent from the theater. For many years 
it was assumed that "Willy" could only be Shakespeare 
(who was often said to "imitate Nature" and whose style 
was likened to "honey"). But then, because of the early 
date, the scholars decided that he must have been someone 
else. But who? They've never figured that out. Maybe 
there was an ur-Willy?

     ITEM: Also in 1591, a mysterious poet calling 
himself "Phaeton" saluted the writer John Florio in a 
sonnet whose polish and rich imagery fairly cry out that 
the author is Shakespeare. But yet again, the scholars 
have resisted the obvious. Their reason? "Too early." 
Their chronology of the Stratford gent's career is set in 
concrete. He =couldn't= have been writing excellent 
sonnets in 1591!

     ITEM: At this point, in 1593, the poet himself 
introduced one of the greatest red herrings of all time: 
Making his formal literary debut as "William Shakespeare" 
with VENUS AND ADONIS, he called the poem (in his 
dedication) "the first heir of my invention," creating 
the impression that he was a young poet at the beginning 
of his career. Taking him literally, the scholars still 
base their chronology on the dogmatic assumption that 
this is the Stratford man giving us the straight scoop. 
(Odd as this sounds, even to me, Shakespeare =never= 
mentions Stratford.)

     ITEM: In 1594, WILLOBIE HIS AVISA, a cryptic work of 
gossip in doggerel rhyme (author unknown), described 
"W.S." as an "old player" (i.e., actor) who has amorous 
adventures. If there was any doubt as to who W.S. was, 
the poem added, "And Shakespeare paints poor Lucrece' 
rape." This time the scholars admit that the allusion is 
probably to Shakespeare, but they don't know what to make 
of his being called "old."

     ITEM: In 1599, a small book of verse titled THE 
PASSIONATE PILGRIM included a version of what is now 
known as Shakespeare's Sonnet 138, in which the poet 
confesses that he lies to his mistress about his age, 
even though "my days are past the best" and "I am old." 
This poem was probably written several years before 1599, 
along with so many other sonnets bemoaning the poet's 
age, wrinkles, misfortunes, and approaching death. But 
even when he himself says, "I am old," the scholars 
refuse to believe him.

     The scholars may not know what to make of all this, 
but I think I do: Three witnesses who knew something of 
Shakespeare personally -- Spenser, the author of 
WILLOBIE, and Shakespeare himself -- were telling us that 
whatever and whoever the poet was, as of 1591 to 1599 he 
was, as we say, no spring chicken.

     In fact the real Shakespeare apparently reached the 
peak of his genius by about the time the man who has been 
mistaken for him arrived in London. If so, the scholars 
have gotten the dates of =all= the plays wrong. They were 
written much earlier than has been believed -- most of 
them long before the Stratford man came to town.

     One example. In 1601 supporters of the rebellious 
Earl of Essex revived RICHARD II, hoping that the scene 
of Richard's deposition would inspire Londoners to join 
their insurrection against Elizabeth I. It didn't, but 
the queen was enraged by this use of the play against 
her. During the subsequent official inquiry, an actor 
named Augustine Phillips mentioned that the play was "so 
old and so long out of use" that it had become hard to 
perform properly.

     According to most scholars (who of course take the 
Stratford man's authorship as a given), the play was 
written about 1595. But a play only six years old would 
hardly be called "so old and so long out of use." Judging 
by its style, I'd say that it had been written long 
before HAMLET -- that is, many years before 1589.

     But to return to my original question, what 
difference does it really make? Well, the Stratfordian 
myth is just too neat for my taste. It's a sentimental 
democratic myth: a Horatio Alger success story of a 
self-made provincial, of undistinguished blood and 
education, who arrives in the big city and achieves 
astounding literary greatness through sheer native talent 
and hard work.

     This happy yarn is no doubt encouraging to those who 
have dropped out of school, but I can't believe it. The 
learned Ben Jonson might scoff at the poet's ignorance 
("small Latin and less Greek"); the even more learned 
John Milton could marvel at Shakespeare "warbling his 
native woodnotes wild"; yet such dismissals are hard to 
square with the immense rhetorical virtuosity of HAMLET 

     It's hard to offer an appealing counter-myth for 
Oxford. He was about as different from the Stratford man 
as can be imagined. He came of blue blood (some of it, in 
fact, royal), money, and Cambridge University, with help 
from the best tutors in England. He was even a favorite 
of the queen. Yet he wasted his huge fortune (inherited, 
not earned) and made bitter enemies, and was perhaps the 
supreme example not of the self-made but of the 
self-unmade man. Later in life he was ostracized at 
court. He also appears to have been singularly cruel to 
his wife. Many people, studying his life, find him 
repellent. I can hardly blame them.

     So why do I take his part? Only because he was 
Shakespeare, and nobody else was. I make no excuses for 
him. If, in the Sonnets, he bewails his misfortunes, he 
never denies having brought many of them on himself; he 
confesses his "guilt" and "harmful deeds." Oxford's 
unsparing self-knowledge shows up in the eloquent but 
self-pitying heroes Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and Leontes 
(in THE WINTER'S TALE), all of whom must learn to face 
their own guilt. We can't separate his genius from his 
flaws. In his hard-won maturity, when he saw himself as 
"old," the social isolation that may have forced him to 
write under pen names also enabled him to produce 
literary miracles about isolated men. The strange story 
should be told.

(pages 5)

     My gratitude is inexpressible to all of you who have 
offered your prayers and expressed your good wishes 
during my recent infirmity. I seem to be recovering from 
the surgery for a badly infected foot; I may yet recover 
from my medications too! Not that I don't count my 
blessings, including the angelic care I received in the 
hospital, the generosity of my friends who visited me, 
and the devoted ministrations of my son Mike here at 


MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Congratulations to Fr. Ian Boyd, 
founder and editor of THE CHESTERTON REVIEW, on the 
occasion of that splendid journal's 30th anniversary. 
Father Boyd offers a free copy of the delicious 
anniversary issue to new subscribers; just write him at 
The Chesterton Review, 400 South Orange Avenue, South 
Orange, NJ 07079, or ($38 for 
a year's sub, $70 for two years). Then enjoy the only 
scholarly journal that makes me laugh out loud. (page 7)

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: An art historian contends that 
LAOCOON, long regarded as one of the greatest sculptures 
of antiquity, is actually a Renaissance forgery. And the 
forger? None other than the great Michelangelo! I guess 
it figures. If a wonder like that could be faked, who 
else on earth could have done it? (page 8)

PROGRESS REPORT: How goes the War on Terrorism? Well, the 
State Department and intelligence officials reckon that 
the number of terrorist attacks all over the world more 
than tripled last year. Maybe it's just another of those 
intelligence failures. (page 9)

Exclusive to electronic media:

LONG-RANGE WEATHER FORECAST: In a three-part series in 
THE NEW YORKER, Elizabeth Kolbert argues plausibly that 
global warming is real and will bring almost unimaginable 
disaster within the next generation. Maybe so; but we 
heard similar dire prophecies about the "population 
explosion" in the Sixties. And then as now, the solution 
was bigger government. Yes, friends, only tyranny can 
save us!

NEVER SEND A BOOR: John Bolton, President Bush's choice 
for new United Nations ambassador, has a low opinion of 
the UN. Which would be fine, except that everyone who has 
ever encountered Bolton seems to have an even lower 
opinion of him. By every account, he's as abrasive as a 
badger; he's been accused of botching diplomatic 
assignments, alienating allies, bullying subordinates, 
and falsifying intelligence data. No wonder Bush thinks 
he's just the man to represent this administration. 

(pages 6-12)

* Family Secrets (March 22, 2005)

* Will Faith Destroy Us All? (March 29, 2005)

* The End of a Papacy (March 31, 2005)

* The Lost Art of Speaking (April 5, 2005)

* Honey and Vinegar (April 19, 2005)

* Another Country (April 26, 2005)

* Roosevelt and His Critics (April 28, 2005)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran.

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