Allow me to echo the sentiments of my TNR colleagues Christopher Orr and Isaac Chotiner in praising the New York Times's choice for its new conservative op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat, who will take over the (weekly) slot previously held (weakly) by Bill Kristol. Ross and I have clashed plenty of times, sometimes harshly. But I, at least, have always learned something from the exchange of passionately held opinions and ideas.
Right-wing Catholic intellectuals like to claim that the Vatican's absolute opposition to abortion (and homosexuality, and contraception) is grounded in something called "natural law," a body of moral principles that are accessible to all human beings through both reason and conscience. Because these principles can be known by all of us, regardless of our theological convictions, they are supposed to be binding on all of us.
Roger Kimball has been a strident, highly polemical right-winger for a long time. But he's also very smart and highly literate. He writes with authority about art and philosophy, literature and politics. He knows a lot about history. And the quarterly he co-edits with Hilton Kramer (The New Criterion) has published erudite commentary and criticism on culture and the arts for more than a quarter century. What, then, are we supposed to make of this astonishing post?
Over at NRO's The Corner, Jonah "Liberals Were Fascists Before They Were Socialists" Goldberg joins with the conservative movement's house comedian Mark Steyn in ridiculing a book he hasn't read -- Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism: Mark - James Piereson reviews Wolfe's book in the latest issue of Commentary (which, readers may like to know, has a fantastic essay by none other than Mark Steyn in it). I can't get behind the firewall, even though I'm a print subscriber, but Piereson's review is sober and contemptuous at the same time.
This is getting a little ridiculous. For those who haven't been paying attention, conservative pundit George F. Will wrote a column for the Washington Post on February 15 in which he argued that contemporary concerns about global warming are greatly exaggerated. Will quoted several articles from the 1970s in order to demonstrate that at the time there was widespread concern about impending "global cooling" that never materialized.
I've admired David Brooks's writing for a long time, and as far as I'm concerned he's easily the most interesting and engaging columnist currently writing for the New York Times. (Paul Krugman is very good at what he does, but he's far too much of a doctrinaire liberal for me.) I've especially liked Brooks's recent columns about the early days of the Obama administration, which have combined unideological admiration for the new president's intelligence and ambition with concern about whether he can possibly accomplish everything he's setting out to do.
I don't know about you, but for me these are disorienting times. I had just turned eleven years old when Ronald Reagan first won the presidency. That means that pretty much from the beginning, my political consciousness has been shaped by the Republican critique of liberalism.
Sunday's op-ed page in the New York Times includes two essays about how to end the culture wars. In one, Slate's William Saletan argues that liberals should seek to lower the number of abortions by strongly advocating the use of birth control. This is a splendid idea, and not only because it might lead to fewer abortions. It would also divide the religious right, pitting ultramontaine Catholics against (comparatively moderate) Protestant evangelicals who don't oppose the use of birth control.
The prospect of Congress passing and President Obama signing theFreedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has inspired the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to sponsor a parish-based campaign to get Catholics to send postcards to members of Congress stating their opposition to the act. There's nothing wrong with that. And neither is there anything inappropriate about Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) -- a Catholic convert from evangelical Protestantism who passionately opposes legalized abortion -- lending his name to the effort.
It's been nearly a week since I backed off of the arguments I made in these two posts. And yet those arguments continue to reverberate around the Web. Here's Russell Arben Fox and Ross Douthat and Noah Millman -- and my response to Noah. And Will Wilkinson. And John Schwenkler. And Daniel Larison. And Sam Barr. I'm sure I've missed someone, but these are the posts that have most contributed to my thinking over the past several days. For now, I'd just like to make a very simple distinction -- one that many others have made before me, but one that debates like this always seem to stumble over.