I've had some nice things to say about conservative David Frum in some recent posts. Those comments had to do with his efforts to reform and moderate certain aspects of contemporary conservatism, primarily in domestic policy. On foreign policy, well, I think he overdid things more than a bit in this book and has never (to my knowledge) backtracked from its arguments. Let's just say I look elsewhere for wisdom on international affairs. But Marty Peretz and James Kirchick must disagree, since they've both endorsed Frum's highly critical take on Obama's Cairo speech.
Theocon Robert P. George has put out a reasonable, responsible statement about the cold-blooded murder of abortion-provider George Tiller.
Roughly four months into Barack Obama's presidency, it's possible to make a few observations about the factions forming on the intellectual right as it adjusts to life in the political wilderness. It's fitting that National Review -- the intellectual incubator of the conservative movement that rose to power with Ronald Reagan -- seems poised to go down with the ship.
In Barack Obama's impressive speech at Notre Dame on Sunday (my opinion of it matches up quite closely with Ed Kilgore's), the president had some interesting things to say in defense of doubt, especially as it relates to religious faith. But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.
In an article in the latest Weekly Standard, First Things editor Joseph Bottum argues that conservative Catholic outrage at the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite the President of the United States to speak at the college's May 17 graduation ceremony, where he will also receive an honorary degree, has "very little to do" with politics.
Andrew Sullivan has written a thoughtful response to this post of mine about torture from two weeks ago. To recap, I argued that when defending the political community against a dire threat to the common good, actions that would under normal circumstances rightly be regarded as immoral and beyond the bounds of civilized decency (like torture) can become morally acceptable and even morally imperative. This is what Aristotle (and Leo Strauss) called the changeability of "natural right," and I consider it to be a permanent fact of political life. Andrew seems to agree in general.
I like the free-flowing, rough-and-tumble, demotic character of Internet-driven media as much as the next blogger. Information can be addictive, just as sharp-edged opinions can induce an adrenaline-driven thrill. But what about historical perspective? And philosophical reflection? And level-headed analysis? The 24-hour news cycle and instant Internet updates don't foster those habits and may even be incompatible with them. And I'm afraid our culture is beginning to pay the emotional and intellectual price.
I remember when Peter Berkowitz was my favorite public intellectual. Back in the late 1990s, he covered political philosophy (broadly defined) for the back of the New Republic, and his review essays were a delight: wise, literate, tough, surprising, unideological. But that was then. Since 9/11, Berkowitz has drifted rightward.
With this post, I'm inaugurating an occasional feature on the blog. Think of it as an idiosyncratic monthly book review section. The books I'll mention will often be new(ish), but not always. They will simply be a sample of what I've been reading and thinking about in recent weeks. Hence the unassuming title of the post. David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale, 2009). One of the intellectual highlights of my time as an editor for First Things magazine was publishing the work of David Bentley Hart. Yes, he can be insufferably pompous.
I've pondered for years what to say about the Bush administration's use of torture in the years after 9/11. So far I've remained quiet about the issue because I'm so uneasy about it -- not just about what the United States has done, but also about the reactions of nearly everyone who has commented on it. On one side, the right mocks those concerned with our actions in that insufferably smug, proudly parochial tone that has marked nearly all conservative commentary about foreign affairs for the past seven years.