Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:11

Survey of Conservative Magazines: A Bright Light

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Survey of Conservative Magazines: A Bright Light

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.

Once upon a time, oh so long ago, when professors had pretensions to learning, it was common for teachers of Political Science to read, and to insist that at least their graduate students read, relevant quarterlies, like Foreign Affairs. Pretty deadly stuff, we always thought, but nevertheless those were the publications where significant ideas were advanced, as anyone will admit who recalls the beginning of the Cold War and the famous "long telegram" from George Kennan in Moscow, ultimately published in Foreign Affairs in 1948 under the name "X."

National Affairs, Yuval Levin's quarterly, is in the tradition, printing sensible deadly articles with titles like "A Prescription for Medicaid" or "Reviewing Regulatory Review" to send one to sleep, but also, occasionally, a brilliant essay that reorients our thinking making us see old problems in new ways. So we have an essay by George Weigel in the Spring issue of National Affairs, "Reality and Public Policy," which makes us at least, think again about 1) our current policy dilemmas, and 2) how we think about the ultimate realities of our lives. Pretty heady stuff.

Mr. Weigel begins by pointing out the contemporary rejection of metaphysics, the study of the nature of first principles, and problems of ultimate reality, a study, of course, which assumes that there is a morally significant givenness to reality, as Mr. Weigel says, "a structure of Why Things Are that can be discerned " which "discloses certain truths about the way we should live." If we reject Things As They Are (Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings) then we cannot address the Way Things Ought To Be. Another way to put it is that democratic bodies (like Parliaments) have lost the knowledge, will, and wisdom to propose solutions to our public problems, and we see this here as well as in Europe - the same intractable problems, the same paucity of thought.

The author attributes this rejection of contact with reality to Gnosticism, an ancient cultural virus (it was an early heresy of Christianity) which has turned up, again and again, throughout history - but never so virulently nor so ubiquitously as it has become since the '60s. This is the essence of Gnosticism, the thing to remember: it seeks the good outside and beyond material reality; everything is determined by will, by desire. Those with knowledge - gnosis - are seers; the rest of us are stuck with obdurate nature of mundane material fact. We see this obviously in the utopianism of Greenism where the earthly paradise shall be magically attained by rejecting industrialism.

We also see this in the starkest terms in the so-called "gender" issue, which relegates the given reality of male, female to the absurd category of "cultural constructs." So the Spanish government in 2007 enacted legislation permitting people to change their sex simply by declaration, and Mr. Weigel quotes Pope Benedict quoting the Chief Rabbi of France who, on the occasion when the French president argued in favor of a same-sex marriage bill, wrote an essay comparing this with Genesis:

. . . being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.

And Mr. Weigel adds:

To imagine that we live in such a self-created world is not only to imagine that we owe nothing to our given nature but also to believe that we owe no attention or response to the problems that arise when we ignore that nature. Such a warped sensibility not only makes a moral order impossible: it makes political order untenable, too.

We hope that answers in our minds the critics of conservatism who are always counseling us to avoid the so-called "social issues"; as Mr. Weigel points out, politics is the expression of culture.

We cannot exaggerate the importance of this essay as a clarifier of thought. Just as James Piereson's essay, "The Fourth Revolution" in the June 2012 issue of The New Criterion shone a revealing light on our mundane politics, Mr. Weigel's essay helps us, not only to clarify our conservative thoughts, but to strengthen them. We cannot recommend it highly enough.

There's a short piece by Peter Wehner in the 6/13 Weekly Standard, "They'll Always Love Obama," a sharp criticism of the nave conservative belief that the media are finally turning on Obama, which seems conclusive to us. We have been made uneasy recently by conservative claims that the recent scandals have opened reporters' eyes to the perfidy of the administration. Mr. Wehner begins with a New York Times story claiming that "the release of e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House account," and then proceeds to show how false the story is. Why is this so?

When [reporters] look at the president and his top advisers they see a reflection of their own background education and sympathies - and sometimes they see their former colleagues and even family members.

A second reason is because they "view his critics with contempt." And finally, reporters are happy with a large federal government, and "these scandals have the potential to deal a devastating blow to their progressive ideology."

This seems to us a remarkably astute view of the media today, and the article is sharp and concise, effectively recalling conservatives to sobriety.

In the last issue we mentioned a very stupid article in the March Commentary; well, the reader response was appalling because readers turned out to be worse than the article's authors - they wanted the GOP to drop any pretense to conservatism. Once the flagship magazine of neo-conservatisim, with a letters column that regularly featured policy intellectuals of a high order, Commentary has fallen on evil days. Sic transit gloria mundi - Thus passes the glory of the world. *

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