This is my fourth and final post previewing the new, Mary Eberstadt edited, anthology, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys. Here are parts one (covering P.J. O’Rourke, Richard Starr, and David Brooks), two (covering Dinesh D’Souza, Heather Mac Donald, and Joseph Bottum), and three (covering Danielle Crittenden, Tod Lindberg, and Sally Satel). Up today: Peter Berkowitz, Rich Lowry, and Mary Eberstadt.
Peter Berkowitz is some kinda neocon–whose intellectual life was turned around when he discovered the writings of Leo Strauss, in Israel. Now that’s red meat for paranoid leftists and paleocons alike! Yet Berkowitz confounds the silly stereotypes of Straussian neocons. More important, Berkowitz explains, in the context of a life (and in clear, easily accessible language) what the writing and thought of Leo Strauss is all about, and why it is so important. A polymath, Berkowitz is a prominent political philosopher with a Ph.D, a decade-long teaching stint at Harvard–and a law degree from Yale. Talk about judicial activism: Berkowitz’s pointed, insider tales from Yale Law School show that the notion is at home there. If P.J. O’Rourke is the brilliant anti-intellectual of the pack, Berkowitz is the ultra-intellectual political philosopher you’ll find it fun and easy to learn from.
No need to introduce Rich Lowry to Corner readers. Rich bears his responsibilities at NR with such grace, it’s tough not to wonder what prepared him to take on a central role in the conservative movement at so young an age. Lots of reading, for one thing. Like a couple other contributors to this volume, Rich’s story is actually not one of political conversion. Instead of a conversion, Rich’s apprenticeship in conservatism was a progressive (sorry) process of discovering the rationale behind what he’d instinctively believed all along. One of the most interesting and unexpected themes in this piece is Rich’s discussion of his religious faith: of how religion has at once nothing, and everything, to do with his conservatism–and with conservatism generally. There’s plenty of playfulness in this story of a teenage conservative (which makes it fun to read). Yet showing themselves repeatedly here are the marks of a young man mature beyond his years.
Mary Eberstadt’s introduction to Why I Turned Right includes a brief account of her own political journey. As with Joseph Bottum in this volume, abortion was the issue that first powered Eberstadt’s political transformation. This collection clearly shows that both Roe v. Wade specifically and the issue of abortion generally have the ability to change political lives. Yet as Eberstadt observes, merely breaking with left-liberal orthodoxy on any specific controversy often raises a cascade of questions about other issues as well. (That was how the affirmative action issue affected me.) Eberstadt’s story is fascinating for showing this unraveling process from the inside.
Another theme Eberstadt elicits from the volume is the effect of marriage and parenthood on political conviction. We already know that marital status is one of the most powerful predictors of political affiliation. The Democratic Party is particularly attractive to singles, while the Republican Party is preferred by married parents. Notwithstanding the many exceptions, the general tendencies are clear and strong. One way of reading at least a few of the pieces in Why I Turned Right is as the inside story of the passage from single, blue America to married-with-children, red America.
As Eberstadt notes, the backlash stirred up by leftist dominance of America’s college campuses is another key theme of this book. I think the leftist takeover of the academy is a net loss for conservatives (and certainly for America). Yet as this book makes clear, the effect cuts two ways. Finally, she points to the dynamic of religious belief and political tendency as one other theme that runs throughout this volume. Many of us make a profession of studying just such issues. But Why I Turned Right affords a unique opportunity to examine them as they play themselves out in the lives of real people–some of your favorite conservative scribes, telling their stories here for the first time.