GLEN COVE, NY — Robert Royal concludes his obituary
of Joe Sobran with Shakespeare’s
words to the dying Hamlet, “Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night,
sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Joe,
who loved Shakespeare, no doubt appreciates the tribute.
Joe was like Hamlet in ways beyond their shared nobility of the heart.
Hamlet was not the classic tragic hero destroyed by “boundless
ambition.” He was a good man who was forced to “take arms
against a sea of troubles” by duty and events beyond his control, “the
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Lying psychiatrists
and psychologists have tried to depict Hamlet as mad, but they are
wrong. He was simply a noble young man who suffered from the evils
of his elders. Joe was similarly an innocent and noble victim of his
I can remember Joe walking from National Review to Saint Agnes Church
to go to confession. He, a senior editor at National
Review in those
days, had a bright future before him.
Joe loved many things and many people. He loved the English language
and wrote in it brilliantly. He also loved the United States Constitution
and understood it, something few people still do. He grasped the profound
damage to the Constitution by Lincoln and by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He rejected the absurd idea that the New Deal should be incorporated
into the conservative tradition. He never accepted the notion that
the federal government should always win and the states should always
Joe took up arms against Gary Wills, who originally established himself
as a conservative but quickly revealed himself as a virulent internal
enemy “within” the Catholic Church. In contrast, Joe wrote
for Catholic publications as a champion of orthodoxy. His political
writings strongly reflected the style and substance of the earliest
days of National Review.
Things were changing, however. National Review was embracing federal
power. The foreign threat to America was altering. America was adjusting
to almost certainly becoming the only superpower. On the domestic level,
disorder and immorality were rampant. Fundamental attacks on civilization
were increasing, especially the legalization of the killing of unborn
children. Throughout all, Joe remained faithful to the views that energized
the reawakening of American conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s.
Eventually, National Review fired Joe. This was a blow to him on
a purely material level, something he never seemed to care much about.
On the spiritual level, the firing was more of a blow to National
Review than to Joe. What made matters tragic was that William F. Buckley and
the crowd of neoconservatives worming their way into the magazine launched
a campaign of libel and slander against Joe that lasted the rest of
his life and cost him potential friends and audiences.
This campaign consisted of constant charges of anti-Semitism. Austria
has a law making denial of the holocaust a serious crime (just like
bank robbery). An English historian visited Austria many years after
he had published and later repudiated a denial of the holocaust. This
made him a dangerous criminal under Austrian law and, sure enough,
the authorities imprisoned him for a long term. Joe defended him. One
would think that conservatives and liberals alike would condemn the
holding of people as common criminals for years for a false conclusion
in an academic paper, but that did not happen. The liberals and the
neoconservatives rallied to the defense of the Austrian law and condemned
Similarly, Joe could not understand why Catholic nuns should not
pray for the repose of the souls of the victims killed at Auschwitz;
this position earned him additional charges of anti-Semitism. Finally,
he disagreed with virtually the entirety of U.S. policy in the Middle
East. Time will prove him right or wrong, but his positions were beyond
doubt consistent and principled.
Nothing in Joe’s writings justifies the abuse he has taken
over the years. There is no greater proof of the nobility of his heart
than the way he endured so much undeserved abuse with good humor. He
remained faithful to the truth while others lied about him. Although
he died of complications of diabetes rather than from a poisoned sword,
he nonetheless died, like Hamlet, a noble and consistent friend of
truth in a nest of villains.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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