I discovered Joe in the 1980s, in those pre-Internet browser days, and remember how I looked forward to each edition of his hard copy newsletter, as well as his column in The Wanderer newspaper. Because I sought out publications that carried his work, I inadvertently wound up learning a lot about the internal struggles going on in the Roman Catholic Church. I'm sure I learned more than I needed to know about particular disputes, like those between the editors of The Wanderer and The Remnant, but it was all enlightening and expanded my education in unexpected ways.
Joe was a fount of knowledge when it came to dissecting the neoconservative takeover and insidious sabotage of this country's conservative movement – the movement I thought I had joined. He was to pay dearly, via a form of secular ex-communication, for his candid observations on these perverters of conservative principles. "Never before," he wrote, "has enthusiasm for concentrated power and violent change been regarded as a conservative trait."
Here are excerpts from a column by Joe, in 2001:
Many of my favorite books are books that shook me up, even angered me, when I first read them. One of these is The Present Age, by the late Robert Nisbet. I knew Bob Nisbet slightly, and he was kind to me, especially considering what a young fool I was. He had the wisdom to know that a young fool can often be transformed by time alone. Or, as the poet William Blake put it, “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.”
Nisbet, a distinguished sociologist and conservative philosopher, published The Present Age in 1988. Though he hated Communism, he harbored a profound skepticism about the Cold War. In 1988 I still didn’t see how a man could hold both attitudes at the same time. Yet I respected Bob Nisbet enough to listen when he said things I didn’t want to hear.
Chief among those things was this: If the Founders of the American Republic could come back today, they would be most astounded, among all the vast changes that time has wrought, by the militarization of the United States. Since World War I, this country has been totally transformed by war and constant preparation for war.
American militarism has been the chief force in changing a decentralized federal republic into a centralized, bureaucratic monolith. During World War I the United States underwent an amazingly swift metamorphosis. World War II accelerated the alteration. The Cold War completed the transformation from isolated republic to global empire. We became inured to limitless government in the name of “defense” and “national security.”
The shock of September 11 has disposed countless Americans to accept, without demurral or reservation, the claim of new powers by the Federal Government — particularly by the executive branch.
But this disposition was made possible by a new tradition of equating patriotism with militarism, and militarism with “defense.” Most of us no longer recognize the new tradition as a break with our original tradition. So we beg the Federal Government to protect us from terrorism, even if that means letting it usurp powers never assigned or allowed to it.
Instead of asking ourselves the pragmatic question, “How can we defeat terrorism?” we should be asking ourselves the more basic question, “Is this the kind of situation we should let ourselves be maneuvered into?” How did a country that was once determined to remain aloof from the endless conflicts of the Old World manage to get itself embroiled in, of all things, the medieval Crusades?
It’s no concern of mine whether Osama bin Laden speaks with the voice of authentic Islam (whatever that may be) or as a crank who happens to have a lot of followers who have the means and determination to kill people I love. Either way, I want him stopped. The sooner the better.
But — and here’s the rub — stopping him may also create more like him. No doubt the U.S. military campaign will deter countless people from trying to emulate him, but it will also have the opposite effect on a few. And a few terrorists or guerrillas are enough to make a lot of trouble, as we have already seen.
The state of Israel has been cracking down on terrorism, hard, for thirty years. Has it worked? The problem is worse than ever. And that’s what we can expect over the next few decades if our own government follows Israel’s example. If we persist in our folly, will we become wise?
And more Sobran reflections from a column in 2002:
The Bush administration's threat to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, though thinly veiled in circumlocutions, should tell us all we need to know about the American image in the world today.
The United States, once so admired over most of the earth, is now seen as a nuclear bully. No wonder it's called "the great Satan" by Muslims and "arrogant" even by its European friends. And President Bush thinks they hate us for "our freedom, our democracy"?
The warning is supposed to deter Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction against American forces and allies, even though (1) we don't know that Iraq has such weapons, and (2) the administration has told us repeatedly that deterrence doesn't work against Iraq.
Iraq hasn't threatened the United States, in spite of Bush's raving on the subject. The United States definitely threatens Iraq. And it has forfeited the right to describe Iraq's or any other regime as "evil."
For decades Americans have worried about nukes falling into "the wrong hands," as if there were "right hands" for weapons of mass murder. Well, those weapons are in the wrong hands now: Bush's hands.
Maybe we should distinguish microterrorism, the terrorism of scattered groups of stateless, relatively helpless people with few other options, from the macroterrorism used by powerful states to back up their huge conventional military forces. When there were two superpowers, each had the plausible excuse of deterrence for amassing nuclear arsenals. Now that excuse is gone: the United States is the only superpower left. And it's still using its nukes.
Maybe it will be said that Bush doesn't really intend to use them. But he is already using them. When a bank robber points a pistol at the teller, he's using it, even if he doesn't fire it. He's also terrifying the bystanders, as Bush is doing.
Though history allegedly ended over a decade ago, we should notice that the U.S. Government is out of control, and it continues to make enemies frequently and unpredictably. Who imagined, when its army was bogged down in Vietnam, that it would go on to wage war (or "keep peace"), not long afterward, from Lebanon to Panama to Iraq to Serbia to Afghanistan and back to Iraq? Does anyone care to place a bet on where it will make future enemies?
The Inspiration of Joe Sobran, by Paul E. Gottfried
Joe Sobran: Martyr for truth, by Stephen J. Sniegoski
Joseph Sobran, Writer Whom Buckley Mentored, Dies at 64, by William Grimes, New York Times