During the Reagan Administration Joe Sobran was my favorite columnist. I remember quipping that in MY world Buckley was the center, Sobran the right and George Will a liberal.
In 1988 Sobran championed the cause of my then-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp, agreeing with our (since-thoroughly-proven) assessment that if George H.W. Bush (41) became the GOP nominee, the Reagan Revolution was dead. I distributed copies of Sobran’s articles vainly attempting to wake enough rank-and-file Republicans to thwart the RNC’s “ANNOINTING,” that year. (Activists understood and began to revolt, but Joe Six-Pack still took Bush to be Reagan’s heir and did what they were told, despite all our efforts.)
Once a syndicated national force, Sobran was, shortly after the election of Bill Clinton, banished from National Review to the American media’s Siberia of non-visibility and I lost touch with his writing. I did not know of his apparent conversion to anarchism (in 2002) until 2008 or of his serious illness (in 2008) until 2010.
But I saw, in ’08, the roots of his philosophical drift (and “drift” aptly labels the description he, himself, provided for his shifts in thinking) dating back to his childhood.
Joe Sobran was what Pierce County GOP Vice Chair Kathy May has called “a poorly-catechized Catholic.” His basic notions of government had never been scripturally transformed. The “Church” had ministered to his heart, but not his mind. He had only dealt with government as it had manifested itself in his experience, historically, intellectually, particularly in the United States and particularly since 1865. He drifted, honestly, in search of answers sorely needed, largely ignoring the resources of his own faith.
As a “conservative” at the National Review he had assumed the legitimacy of “Constitutional” government, a priori, more sincerely than his peers, but floated in that spiritual void of “assumption.” Surely, he thought, the Constitution was “the answer.”
But as he saw the Constitution’s [I thought self-evident] powerlessness to save us, he went looking for a different messiah.
Deeply influenced by the libertarian genius, Murray Rothbard, beginning in the ’80s, Sobran (according to Sobran) wholly accepted the anti-Biblical view that “The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force,” and reasoned, logically enough, to the equally false conclusion that, as Rothbard said, “…the state was nothing but a criminal gang writ large.” It is, from there, a small and logical step to anarchy and Joseph tells us he took it. Having sincerely, based on his false assumptions, logically and compellingly mis-defined the problem, he, logically and with great conviction, embraced the placebo.
But we already have anarchy. Rejoice.
Half a decade after embracing the intellectual antecedents of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (which, ironically, was penned in service to theoretical Communism) Sobran began to die. I have no details. But he re-structured his life around his health two years ago and I think it can be deduced that, at some point, he had to have theorized what was actually happening to him.
As someone who has, myself, most recently been recalled to that cosmic ante-room for consultation with the Almighty, I can report that it is, at once, sobering, wonderful, introspective and… uh, intoxicating. Stark reminders of one’s mortality can, I assume, be a terrifying experience if one is gazing into Darkness. But for those of us who have admitted our inadequacies as humans and accepted the Mercy purchased in blood, who have, moreover, nothing to lose in “death,” encountering its proximity is interesting (to say the least) and life-improving (to apprehend the best).
Let us pray that our brother found, in life, the philosophical Rock his wonderful mind seemed to wish to perceive, as through a glass, darkly.
But now, face to face.