The Corner

A Conservative of a Kind


In today’s Impromptus, I have some reflections on John Gross, the marvelous critic, and man, who passed away last week. These reflections are mainly personal. But I’d like to make a point here about politics, broadly speaking. John was considered a conservative, and I suppose he was. But he was not terribly political. He just had high standards for literature, art, theater, music, and scholarship. He thought Western civilization was a great and wonderful thing. And for that, in his time and place, he was called a “conservative.”

In all our hours of conversation, I can’t remember much about politics, either British or American — or European or African or whatever. It was just talk about . . . life, and its riches. And John had taste.

Saul Bellow, too, was called a conservative, by some. I think of him as an ordinary Chicago liberal, who nevertheless believed in standards. He thought that Shakespeare and the other “dead white males” weren’t bad at all. Furthermore, he thought that maybe, just maybe, the aftermath in Indochina — all that mass murder, all those boat people, all that tyranny — was . . . you know: kinda bad. When liberals moved left, Bellow stayed where he was. And that made him, in many eyes, a conservative — if not a reactionary or fascist.

Bernard Lewis is called a conservative — because he has the audacity to think that Arabs, too, deserve a decent life, and are not congenitally disposed to tyranny.

Such a weird, weird age, the one we’re living in. I’ve said it a thousand times: It takes amazingly little to be considered a conservative. Think Paradise Lost is better than I, Rigoberta Menchú? Think the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to be guided by science, instead of political emotions and desires? Think Cubans ought to be able to read a book of their choosing, or open a store, or leave the country on a raft without being shot to death in the water? Welcome to the “fascist” fold, my friend.

P.S. I have written the above in exaggerated style — just slightly exaggerated! I appreciate your taking the central point nonetheless . . .

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