Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
We had pretty well written off First Things under its new editor as a useful conservative magazine, but we spoke too soon. The February issue contains not only a sharp editorial on the State Department's decision to make homosexual rights a principle guiding the American effort to influence and shape culture throughout the world, a disastrous notion typical of this administration, but two excellent essays, one on "Same-Sex Science" and one on the thought of Michael Oakeshott, the British political philosopher who died in 1990.
"Same-Sex Science," by Stanton Jones, summarizes and explains the little we know about same-sex relations in a remarkably sensible and enlightening way. In this space we cannot go into detail, but we shall summarize the author's points. It is understood that there is a dense smokescreen of pro-homosexual propaganda emanating from the American Psychiatric Association, and Professor Jones, while not engaged in a polemic, necessarily exposes the inadequacy of APA research. This is a scientific article, and questions of research are important because, as the author points out, it's hard to find representative samples when only 1.8 percent are bisexual men, 1.1 percent homosexual men, and 0.6 percent lesbians among adults in Europe and the United States. These conclusions, however, can be drawn: depression and substance abuse is 20-30 percent more prevalent among homosexuals (including lesbians and bisexuals); homosexualism is mildly determined by biology and mildly determined by environmental factors; homosexualism is sometimes mutable; homosexual relations are unstable relative to heterosexual relations. All the propaganda works toward the conclusion that homosexualism is normal, positive, and legitimate, but the author draws a fine line here, pointing out that this is not a scientific judgment but one that belongs to the realms of religion, theology, and philosophy. He ends by pointing out that we made a mistake by acquiescing in the disease conception of homosexuality, which prevailed into the 1970s, so were left flatfooted when that was discredited. This is the final sentence:
The best ecclesiastical, professional, legal, and social policy will be founded not on falsehoods or grotesque and indefensible simplifications but on a clearheaded grasp of reality in all its complexities, as well as on a humble recognition of all that we do not know.
Michael Oakeshott stands out among conservative thinkers because he has no program, no ideology. In fact, he didn't even believe conservatism was a cause, accepting it as a way of living and of looking at life. He thought the importance of politics was exaggerated, a great fuss on the surface of life that made little impression below the surface. Political activity encourages a "limitation of view which appears so clear and practical but which amounts to little more than a mental fog." We think our readers, if they are honest with themselves, will ruefully admit that truth of that observation, especially at this time. The strength of ideas, he felt, derived from lived experience that gave the ideas form, not from theories or polemics. He thought that society is sustained, not by politicians but by artists, poets, philosophers, and scholars. As the writer observes, the conservative is not primarily defined by taking the right political positions but by recognizing and preserving
. . . the beauty the world has to offer, and by engaging as much as possible in activities that are worthwhile in themselves, especially friendship, love, esthetic contemplation, conversation, and liberal learning.
Now attractive as Oakeshott's views are to us, we must admit that they seem naively unworldly. Gertrude Himmelfarb, writing in 1975, wondered about that. "What happens when the 'adversary culture'. . . has become the dominant culture?" Especially now, 35 years later, when the artists, poets, philosophers, and scholars have so corrupted themselves that they have destroyed their vocations? We think Oakeshott is correct to direct us to the appreciation of cultural sources of our thoughts and desires, to understand how our politics is informed thereby, but we fear it is not enough: we must engage in politics, but if we keep Oakeshott's reservations in mind, we shall not wholly succumb to its rancor.
The first thing we turn to in National Review is the last page, Mark Steyn's "Happy Warrior." In the February 20 issue he writes about the latest Obamacare decision that religious institutions must offer their workers free contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, showing how the ever-encroaching state is doing its utmost to force religious views out of the public square, pointing out how parents cannot prevent their children from being taught in school about the "joys of same-sex marriage." There is, however, an exception: Moslems. In England, when Moslems objected to such teaching, the books were quickly removed. Then he tells of an "honor" killing in Montreal when a couple drowned their three daughters, who had pleaded with teachers, social workers, and police to be taken away from their abusive parents. Deference to Islam stopped authorities from doing anything. And of course the media played down the Moslem attitude toward women. Finally, he recounts how Moslem students participate in a Friday prayer service in a Toronto public school: menstruating girls, in the back, do not take part. A chilling essay.
In the February issue Steyn has an incisive piece on Ron Paul, "Paul the Parochial," the best I've ever seen on the man, cleverly set up in the beginning where Steyn writes critically of our Afghan adventure, concluding:
It is two thirds of a century since the alleged hyperpower last unambiguously won a war, and that ought to prompt a little serious consideration of the matter. Instead, we have Ron Paul, who says all would be well if we stopped "endlessly bombing these countries!"
And that's the extent of Paul's analysis of our foreign policy. Steyn ends the column:
I wish I could like Ron Paul more, really I do. But libertarian narcissism is as banal as any other strain. Ten years of desultory, inconclusive, transnationally constrained warmongering is certainly a problem. But know-nothing parochial delusion is not the solution.
In the February 20 issue of National Review, the cover story, "The Truth About Fracking" by Kevin Williamson, is excellent, a thorough explanation of the process and its proponents and enemies. He is particularly good on the latter, finally pointing out:
The opposition to fracking isn't at its heart environmental or economic or scientific. It's ideological, and that ideology is nihilism. . . . [They are] opposed to energy and most of what it enables. . . . We can't really debate the course of modern technological civilization with people who are opposed to modern technological civilization per se, your mostly middle-class and expensively miseducated . . . types afflicted with the ennui of affluence.
That's bang on target, and good to see in a conservative magazine.
Andrew Ferguson, in his February column in Commentary, is the only writer we've seen who says that Chrisopher Hitchens was a crank; everyone else eulogizes him sentimentally and dishonestly. *