Wanderer Logo

Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch


(Reprinted from the issue of June 8, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for MorituriIn 1993 I was fired from National Review for a column I’d written for The Wanderer criticizing Bill Buckley, who’d been my boss and my dear friend for 21 years. It was painful for both of us, but things had reached the breaking point.

Now comes the awful news that Bill, at 80, has been diagnosed with emphysema and recently spent two weeks being treated for it at the Mayo Clinic; by a bitter coincidence, one of his sisters is dying of the same ailment, which is of course both agonizing and incurable.

I’ve written, maybe too much, about our political differences, but one could never write too much about what a lovable man Bill is. It would take a long book to detail his quiet acts of charity, if there were any way of finding them all out. I’ve been the beneficiary of my share of them, and I’ve accidentally learned of many others, and I don’t doubt that all these are only a small fraction of the sum.

His career as a political journalist is almost incidental to his life; you don’t really know him until you know his burning love of Jesus.

I once learned by chance that Bill had supported the great libertarian Frank Chodorov in his last years, when the sweet little old man had been all but forgotten by the rest of the world. That was typical. Bill wasn’t one to preach compassion; he lived it. He couldn’t bear to see a friend suffer.

One night in London many years ago, an old friend since his Yale days told me how Bill had stayed with him to console him when his six-year-old daughter was dying of brain cancer. Such inexpressible grief is frightening to most of us; we feel helpless to relieve it, and we can hardly bear to face it. But when Bill couldn’t give you anything else, he gave you himself.

He was endearing in countless little ways too. His warmth and humor kept the office of National Review a happy place to work. When he returned from his annual winter stay in Switzerland, he brought little gifts for the women on the staff. Best of all, he brought the delight of his own great presence. The place lit up with joy. Bill was home! It was spring!

Bill loved to laugh, and he loved to make us laugh, with special affectionate jokes for each of us. When I became a syndicated columnist in 1979, he let me know, in a typically witty way, that he was proud of me. He sent me a clipping from a newspaper announcing that it was dropping his column and picking up mine instead! With the clipping he sent a note: “Morituri te salutamus.” “We who are about to die salute you.”

I wouldn’t call Bill guileless, but he could be naive. I think his big mistake was to welcome the neoconservatives into the house of conservatism. Some of them were decent people; but others were blackmailers and smear artists, and these in effect had a knife in his ribs. They respected nothing, let alone a friendship. One of them boasted that he’d gotten Buckley to shut me up. Today, alas, the neocons and their allies control National Review.

But I don’t want to dwell on all that. Now Bill and I are both old men, looking at the end. It seems fitting to close with a joke:

Morituri te salutamus, Bill.

Let ’Em Crumble

Peter Beinart of The New Republic is an astute young liberal, worth reading even when you disagree with him. I’m pleased to see he has had second thoughts about the Iraq war, which he originally favored. Writing in Time, he draws a wise parallel with the Cold War.

Conservative Cold Warriors used to argue that time was running out for the United States and urged aggressive action against the Soviet Union before it was too late. This was the position of James Burnham, whom I knew at National Review, and whose memory I’ll always revere. But liberal Cold Warriors, such as George Kennan, argued for a strategy of containment, confident that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!Communism would never work in the long run, because it was held together by raw force.

Fortunately, says Beinart, Kennan’s view prevailed and he was proved right well before he died last year at the age of 100. Preventive (or “pre-emptive”) war turned out to be unnecessary. In the same way, Beinart goes on, Saddam Hussein could have been contained without a disastrous invasion, and so can the mullahs of Iran.

“Time is not on our side,” President Bush warned before attacking Baghdad, summoning visions of mushroom clouds. Actually, it was; in a sense it always is. Given time, every regime will falter, lose focus, and come to confusion, as Bush’s own administration has.

I’d call this a conservative insight, but when it comes to war, liberals seem to grasp it better than conservatives do. In Beinart’s words, “Let your enemies crumble.”

If only liberals took this patient approach to other problems! Poverty was naturally drying up until they declared war on it.

The Delusion of Control

“There are many events in the womb of time, which will be delivered,” says Shakespeare. I think of those words whenever I recall Francis Fukuyama’s optimistic declaration that we had arrived at “the end of history.” Communism had fallen, and liberal democracy was the universal destiny of mankind. History had not only ended, but ended happily.

Only a decade ago this seemed plausible; now it sounds mad, the expression of a blind hubris. War, mass immigration, global warming — real and alleged emergencies threaten us, and who knows what others lie ahead?

Hurricane Katrina was only an especially vivid reminder that man can never really control events. In fact, his very attempts to control them, especially through government, only aggravate the chaos.

Nevertheless, we seem unable to give up those attempts. The delusion of man’s omnipotence dies very hard, no matter how often it is exposed. A generation ago the West felt threatened by a “population bomb” that would soon have us all starving unless we — our governments, that is — acted decisively; contraception became not a sin but a duty.

Today, as a result, the white race is dying off while others multiply. When will we learn?

“A country is in real trouble when even its conservatives have forgotten the past.” SOBRANS. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription for a priest, friend, or relative.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

Washington Watch
Archive Table of Contents

Return to the SOBRANS home page
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer


The Wanderer is available by subscription. Write for details.

SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 

This page is copyright © 2006 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.