Author: Joseph Sobran (Joseph Sobran)

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What Was a Chaperone?

From the July 2002 issue of Chronicles. I confess it: My television is always on.  I seldom watch the news, the talking heads, the public-spirited uplift, Masterpiece Theater, or the educational stuff.  No, I watch old movies.  Constantly. I watch them because they bring back the good old days.  I think, for instance, of a film...

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Calling Dr. Johnson

The Dear Leader of the United States reminds me of Robert Frost’s quip that a liberal is a man who won’t take his own side in a fight.  More precisely, his own country’s side. Barack Obama seems to hate calling anyone our enemy.  It isn’t nice.  It’s not Christian, as he understands Christianity.  Well, Christ...

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A Few Simple Queries

If I could ask our young President a few questions, they would run something like this: “At what point would you say, ‘There.  We finally have as much government as we need.  To give it any more power would be tyrannous and would diminish our God-given rights’?  I sense that you have never asked yourself...

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Land of Obama

“A corrupt society has many laws,” observed the Roman historian Tacitus. The Founding Fathers knew this aphorism, and their work reflects it, from the Articles of Confederation to the Federalist to the Tenth Amendment.  They designed these documents to save this country from the plague of “many laws.”  And the inaugural addresses of nearly all...

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The Eclipse of the Normal

Nearly a century ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote of “the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.”  Today the very word normal is almost taboo.  Perish the thought that there is anything abnormal—let alone sinful, vicious, perverted, abominable, sick, unhealthy, or just plain wrong—about sodomy.  (Unsanitary?  Let’s not go there.) As...

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Deal With the Devil

For several months after last November, the American media raved about Barack Obama’s achievement in becoming the first African-American president of the United States.  I didn’t—and couldn’t—join in the jubilation, for several reasons. First, it had always seemed to me obvious that we would have a black president someday.  When I was in junior-high school...

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Scarlett and Michael

The other night, while watching The Godfather on television for roughly the 50th time, I was struck by a parallel that had never occurred to me before.  The movie’s sentimental musical score reminded me of “Tara’s Theme” in Gone With the Wind.  My mother used to whistle that melody all the time; she loved the...

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Shattering Lincoln’s Dream

I just got a copy of a thoughtful new book, Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President, by Thomas L. Krannawitter.  The book mentions me a couple of times, in polite disagreement.  Krannawitter, now of Hillsdale College, is a disciple of Claremont McKenna College’s Harry V. Jaffa, as I once was. The Jaffa...

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Media Bias Revisited

Complaints about “media bias” usually boil down to uninteresting charges that the news media tilt their reportage in favor of one party—usually, but not always, the Democrats.  So say the Republicans, with some justice, but put this way the indictment is somewhat superficial.  Conservatives more keenly accuse those media of being “liberal”—that is, principled enough...

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Words and Power

Most American presidents, unless they leave office in disgrace, are honored by having airports, schools, libraries, streets, and even whole cities named after them.  The city of San Francisco has saluted President George W. Bush in a singular way—by naming a sewage-treatment plant after him. Of course, this reminds us that the city on the...

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Pickwickian Popery

I’ve been reading Garry Wills for more than 40 years now, with mixed admiration, delight, and alarm.  In the early 60’s he wrote for National Review, the youngest of its many brilliant contributors.  He then seemed to be an orthodox Catholic and political conservative; but that began to change in 1968, when he suddenly matured...

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The Future of Tyranny

My mother, an incurable Democrat, God forgive her, adored Adlai Stevenson.  To her mind, he and Richard Nixon offered the extreme and opposite poles of spiritual reality, like Saint Michael and Lucifer. Among today’s politicians, Sen. Barack Obama inspires the same rare kind of devotion.  I am not suggesting that this passion is warranted; on...

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Jesus’ Simple Message

When you get intimately familiar with any artist’s work, you become delightedly aware of the development of his style.  I was reminded of this lately while working on a book about Shakespeare; more than ever, I was impressed by the vast difference between the “middle” Shakespearean style and the later style (or styles). The pithy...

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Defending the Normal

Conservatism is usually defined as “opposition to change,” “adherence to the old and traditional,” and so forth.  But, of course, in the Bush-Cheney era, we all feel these familiar tags to be seriously inadequate, even wholly beside the point and downright misleading. If these men are conservatives, as the news media insist on calling them,...

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The Atheist’s Redemption

In my last appearance in this space, I wrote erroneously that Christopher Hitchens had favored both Anglo-American wars on Iraq.  In fact, he strongly opposed the first one, back in 1991.  I remember this so vividly (I was delighted with him at the time) that I can’t understand how I could be so embarrassingly forgetful...

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The Atheist Renaissance

Atheists are feeling their oats these days.  Three militant unbelievers—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens—have recently hit the best-seller lists and talk shows.  Not since Bertrand Russell have we seen atheism so prosperously married to celebrity.  Why now? Since the September 11 terror attacks, militant Islam has given ammunition to those in the secularized...

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Was George Will Wrong?

If Rush Limbaugh can pass for a conservative these days, it’s no marvel that George Will can, too.  Unlike Limbaugh, he at least reads books, especially Victorian ones.  (He even named his daughter Victoria.)  But he shares with Limbaugh an easygoing approach to defining conservatism, to the extent that a tabloid tramp such as Rudy...

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Hitchcock Without Stars

Alfred Hitchcock now enjoys a high and even, some would say, an exaggerated reputation among Hollywood film directors.  Certainly, he is among the most influential, if only because with Psycho (1960) he created the mother, as it were, of all slasher movies.  One reviewer, wishing to hint at the film’s theme without revealing the ending,...

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On Being “Right Wing”

As I write these words, just after the November 7 elections, liberal Democrats are enjoying a well-earned gloat on their victory over the right wing.  Just one question: What does right wing mean? I’ve puzzled over this question for years.  I’ve also posed it to liberals, who can’t really answer it.  They apply this term,...

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Aaron’s Tormentors

This summer, as the odious Barry Bonds advanced toward Henry Aaron’s home-run record, I told a friend: “I’m going to write Bonds a letter.  And it’s going to be even more vitriolic than the one I wrote Aaron 30 years ago.” Just kidding, of course!  When Aaron broke the most venerable record in baseball—then held,...

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Holmes & Sons

During a recent bout of infirmity, I turned for solace to the greatest storyteller of modern times, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).  If this sounds like excessive praise, I ask you—no, I defy you—to name his superior, or even his nearest rival, for that title. Late in the Victorian era, Conan Doyle, a struggling physician,...

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The Big Word

What is culture, anyway?  It’s one of those baffling words that at first seem to mean a narrow range of things (stuff such as “grand opera”) and then turn out to cover just about everything—even the New York Post, if you stretch it far enough.  As with art and history, you may find yourself using...

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The Way We Were

I am not by nature, I think, a grumpy old man.  But, at the age of 60, I feel entitled to comment on some inescapable facts about the younger generation.  If my judgments seem harsh, I can only invite the reader to try to refute them, if he can.  Or if she can.  (Equality requires...

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The Bush Legacy

Does anyone really remember what sort of president Bill Clinton was? Have we all forgotten his amazingly sordid character so soon? He disgraced the Oval Office like no president before him; he was only the second to be impeached; he embarrassed America before the world; known as Slick Willie in his native Arkansas, he almost...

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Eugene McCarthy, R.I.P.

Eugene McCarthy, R.I.P.  When famous people die, they are usually overpraised in fulsome superlatives, well meant but losing all proportion.  I’ve complained about this before, and I try to resist the temptation.  I’ll try to resist it today; it won’t be easy but respect for the man himself forbids exaggeration of his virtues.  He wouldn’t...

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Conservatism’s Ancient Mariner

In November 2005, Bill Buckley observed his 80th birthday, and his magazine, National Review, its 50th.  Both anniversaries were rather fulsomely saluted, George Will remarking that, thanks to Buckley and his magazine, the phrase “conservative intellectuals” had “ceased to be an oxymoron.” Will’s comment was apt, but in a way he didn’t intend.  Oxymoron is...

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What Was a Chaperone?

I confess it: My television is always on.  I seldom watch the news, the talking heads, the public-spirited uplift, Masterpiece Theater, or the educational stuff.  No, I watch old movies.  Constantly. I watch them because they bring back the good old days.  I think, for instance, of a film (whose title I forget) in which...

The Timorous Intellectuals
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The Timorous Intellectuals

David Brock, scourge of Anita Hill and Bill Clinton, the young man who gave new meaning and currency to the phrase “Arkansas state trooper,” has made a second career of repenting of his years in the conservative movement.  He has now retold the story of his disaffection from the movement in Blinded by the Right:...

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Chesterton and the Gentile Problem

In 1961, Garry Wills published his first book, a penetrating study of G.K. Chesterton.  It wasn’t a huge success, and it soon went out of print.  Later, after swinging fashionably leftward, Wills would write best-sellers and Pulitzer Prize-winners. Now his Chesterton has been reissued, slightly revised, in paperback.  In a new introduction, Wills apologizes for...

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Creeds and Values

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have jarred American self-confidence, caused coast-to-coast panic, and even (we shall see) ignited World War III, but so far they have failed to put a dent in multicultural etiquette.  President Bush and other government spokesmen have been at pains to stress that...

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Abe-Worship

At the end of the recent remake of Planet of the Apes—turn the page now if you still plan to see it—the hero escapes from said planet and its monstrous chimp-tyrant, General Thade. Returning to Earth at night, his spacecraft crashes in, of all places, the Reflecting Pool at the Washington Mall, and he solemnly...

Restore the Constitution!
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Restore the Constitution!

In recent years, American politics has been preoccupied with moral questions, or what are now called “social issues”: sexual immorality, sodomy, abortion, pornography, and recreational drugs. Some conservatives want the federal government to play a role in opposing these evils. Many libertarians, on the other hand, want the government, state and federal alike, to treat...

The (New) Ugly American
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The (New) Ugly American

The regime we live under—the regime of the United States Constitution—began with a set of clear understandings. One was that the federal government was to be the servant of the people. It was to be confined to the specific powers the people “delegated” to it, pursuant to the general welfare and common defense of the...