Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:05

Survey of Conservative Magazines

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Survey of Conservative Magazines

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin

Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.

We have not written any Surveys for a while because conservative magazines were full, last summer, of speculation about the coming elections, and afterwards were preoccupied with the results and what would follow - pretty insignificant stuff. Now, however, we have some interesting issues and fruitful discussions in the conservative press, and we are back on the job.

Sadly, we have to report a gap in the ranks, a grievous loss. The American Spectator stopped publication last summer without the grace to inform subscribers. We subscribed to the magazine back in the 1980s, and we miss it (a digital version exists for online subscribers).

We had all but given up on First Things which, under the editorship of R. R. Reno, had become essentially a sectarian Catholic publication, and worse, was boring. Mr. Reno is prolix and so is D. B. Hart, who writes a feature. Nothing is so deadly in a magazine as acres of uninspired prose. The May issue, still suffering from the editor's prolixity, nevertheless has managed to publish three first-rate pieces worthy of our attention. The first is the lead editorial by Mr. Reno, "Success Is Not Dignity," taking issue with Robert Putnam's book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, whose thesis is that "College-educated people are largely functional, while less-educated people are increasingly dysfunctional." But, as Mr. Reno points out:

Today, the poor lack social capital first and foremost, not financial capital. They are spiritually impoverished more than educationally disadvantaged.

His argument is eloquent:

It means policies that punish divorce and reward marriage. It means getting serious about limiting pornography and resisting the temptation to legalize drugs. It means affirming gender roles that encourage men to act like gentlemen and women like ladies.

Yes, it is much too wordy, but the case is made and we can now see clearly the limits of the utilitarian, meritocratic approach.

The second coup is a long (but not too wordy) essay by Daniel Mahoney on Solzhenitsyn's 6,000 page saga, The Red Wheel, that begins as a historical novel, "but in sections, turns into dramatic history with no fictional characters at all, only historical ones." Some years ago we read the "August 1914" section and were not impressed, concluding that no matter how good he was at factual prose, Solzhenitsyn was not a writer of fiction. The Mahoney article, which discusses the whole epic in considerable detail, makes us want to read the entire, now revised, text. It not only makes clear what Solzhenitsyn was up to, but also arouses our curiosity and interest.

The third triumph is "The Great Interpreter" by Michael and Luke Paulsen, who argue that Lincoln, in the Civil War crisis, shaped the Constitution as we know it now, because his response to secession was to follow a strict reading of that document and of his duties as President: America was a nation, not a confederation of sovereign states, and it was his duty to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Union. The war itself decided the issue. Lincoln's election, and thus endorsement of his position on limiting slavery by keeping it out of the territories, led to secession, which led to war, to the emancipation Proclamation, the North's victory, and the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery - all within five years. Lincoln's vision of the Union, a matter of heated debate before the war, became the settled opinion of the nation. Furthermore, he did this in the face of the Dred Scott decision because he thought that:

The Supreme Court's decisions are not supreme over the Constitution itself, and therefore cannot bind other responsible actors in the exercise of their independent constitutional responsibilities.

The authors strongly support the argument, although it seems not to prevail today. This excellent essay amplifies our view of Lincoln and the whole legal background of the time.

The winter issue of the Claremont Review (which arrives in spring) continues to improve and this issue contains, besides several tributes to the late Henry Jaffa, a fine appreciation of Martin Gilbert by David Pryce-Jones, an excellent review of Hillel Halkin's biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky, father of the Israeli Right, and a sharp review by Ronald Radosh of two books about the notorious Lillian Hellman.

Horrible Hillary is always good for a laugh, and in the April 6 issue of National Review James Lileks and Rob Long both satirize the e-mail kerfuffle. Lileks presents "e-mails from the low-level techs who administered Clinton email.com, written to its primary user," and I quote one:

Just wanted to thank you for the experience of a lifetime! Flying over the ocean in a helicopter with SEALs and watching them throw the drive out the door and destroy it with a missile was AWESOME.

Long quotes e-mails from a "customer support group." Here's one:

Unit no longer processing human warmth. Unit seems to be displaying signs of total breakdown in Natural Human empathy Algorithm. This has been repaired and repaired several times and EACH TIME it suddenly lurches into malfunction without sending the error code.

They are both amusing, but Long's humor cuts much deeper, we think. *

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The St. Croix Review

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