Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joe Sobran, The Reluctant Anarchist (1946-2010)

Joseph Sobran, one of the greatest and most eloquent conservative (and later libertarian) writers of our generation, died on September 30 at the young age of 64 from complications of diabetes. I credit his writings in the late 1990s for having a large part in my own conversion to conservatism and, eventually, libertarianism. In this article from 2002, Mr. Sobran talks about his own journey to a radical Rothbardian libertarianism:

My arrival (very recently) at philosophical anarchism has disturbed some of my conservative and Christian friends. In fact, it surprises me, going as it does against my own inclinations.

As a child I acquired a deep respect for authority and a horror of chaos. In my case the two things were blended by the uncertainty of my existence after my parents divorced and I bounced from one home to another for several years, often living with strangers. A stable authority was something I yearned for.

Meanwhile, my public-school education imbued me with the sort of patriotism encouraged in all children in those days. I grew up feeling that if there was one thing I could trust and rely on, it was my government. I knew it was strong and benign, even if I didn’t know much else about it. The idea that some people — Communists, for example — might want to overthrow the government filled me with horror.

G.K. Chesterton, with his usual gentle audacity, once criticized Rudyard Kipling for his “lack of patriotism.” Since Kipling was renowned for glorifying the British Empire, this might have seemed one of Chesterton’s “paradoxes”; but it was no such thing, except in the sense that it denied what most readers thought was obvious and incontrovertible.

Chesterton, himself a “Little Englander” and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling’s view: “He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.” Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.

Of course Chesterton was right. You love your country as you love your mother — simply because it is yours, not because of its superiority to others, particularly superiority of power.

This seems axiomatic to me now, but it startled me when I first read it. After all, I was an American, and American patriotism typically expresses itself in superlatives. America is the freest, the mightiest, the richest, in short the greatest country in the world, with the greatest form of government — the most democratic. Maybe the poor Finns or Peruvians love their countries too, but heaven knows why — they have so little to be proud of, so few “reasons.” America is also the most envied country in the world. Don’t all people secretly wish they were Americans?

Read the rest, and also see his hilarious primer on how to teach your children about the state.

1 comment:

Don Emmerich said...

Thanks for linking to "Teach Your Children Well." Hilarious and true.

Sobran was a giant. A great man. How tragic that we lost him at just 64.