Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Andrew Sullivan’s Conservative Soul? Or Rat Choice Theory--Part 11

Here’s Mark Gauvreau’s very fine criticism of Andrew Sullivan’s identification of true conservatism with conscientious relativism. Gauvreau sets us straight on the true connection between conscience and the person’s openness to the truth, with the help of Benedict/Ratzinger. Facing up to and acting responsibly in light of what we really can know is, in fact, the very opposite of succumbing to some dogmatic absolutism that stifles conscientious self-reflection (as opposed to subjective affirmation of some personal experience). Among the most superficial, conscience-denying forms of absolutism is the identification of the truth with emerging fashion, popular or intellectual. Nonetheless, it’s always seemed to me that Sullivan’s writing has characteristically been conscientious in the weak sense of relatively sincere and sometimes genuinely searching. (He can also be mighty self-righteous with little real justification and, like us all, produce convenient rationalizations.) His book deserves our attentive consideration, unlike some other more opportunistic books we’ve discussed on this blog.

Discussions - 17 Comments

"Conscientious relativism": a fine and apt phrase to describe what AS is peddling, with the substantive (sic) deterining the adjective. You therefore are right to say that his notion of "conscience" is light years away from traditional or commonsensical notions. Not however a recognizably contemporary subjective - sovereignty of personal experience - sort.
Employing the criterion of "conscience" and "conscientious," I would submit that AS is considerably more ideological than conscientious. For example, as Diana Schaub pointed out a while back in her review of Virtually Normal, he presents "the oppositions’" views in their weakest, even distorted, form. And even the mildmannered Ramesh Pommeru has felt compelled to respond on a frequent basis to AS’s now-habitual distortions of his, as well as AS’s own, statements and positions.

Timothy Fuller reviews the book in the October issue of First Things. Has anyone seen it yet?

Well, I think Paul is objectively right. And I agree with RP and TP that AS is worth engaging.

TP in comment 3 should be TF--Tim Fuller

One more thing to Paul--the perfect definition of ideology is convenient rationalization on a relatively mega-scale (see Solzhenitsyn, Havel).

Gauvreau is Mark’s middle name. Last name is Judge.

I was disappointed in Fuller’s review, but go ahead and read it, of course.
Peter: while I have some familiarity with the great ones’ use of "ideology," what would you call a figure, a public intellectual, whose worldview was Manichean and who implicitly but clearly calls for the total reformation/change/destruction of conservatism, America, millenial morality and the Catholic church - all at the service of a self-serving emancipatory impulse-and-agenda?

Thanks to Ed, but it’s too late, apparently to make the correction. Sorry, sorry to Mr. Judge.

Paul, It’s that line of thinking that we must confront without anger, because that libertarian or liberationist impulse is the sophisticated ideology of our time.

Paul, The fuller ain’t on line and the mail to Floyd County stinks. So what does it say? Could you fax it to me 706 236 2205?

Peter, I take your point about "anger." (I even know the Lati phrase "sine ira et studio.") I also distinguish between big "I" ideologies and small "i" ones, for example, between Marxist-Leninist Ideology and libertarianism/emancipatory egalitarianism (which is so rampant today). I also make a distinction between an ideology and an ideologue. You probably do, too. Whould you say AS isn’t an ideologue? Part of the essential notion of an ideologue is to be impervious to counter evidence and argumentation. Would you say that AS is capable of being argued with, as opposed to against?

Good questions--We’ll find out whether he cn be argued with, and we have to show him that courtesy--deserved or not--to fend liberationist public policy, assuming the Court continues to allow the American people a choice. I don’t see the difference btwn AS and Justice Kennedy, except that AS has sometimes been right on some issues (look at his foreign policy views etc.) and is interested in really justifying himself to himself.

As the French say, on verra. (Interesting phrase: justifying himself to himself.) The big difference I see between Kennedy and AS is that the former - as far as I know - is only woefully misguided/mistaken in connection with jurisprudence; AS wants to reshape everything. (I know that jurisprudence can reshape a lot, but it can’t reshape conservatism, the Catholic Church, and traditional morality.)

Well, for the sake of argument, let me say that K’s jurisprudence is in principle unlimited, and his theorist, whether he knows it or not, is a guy like Sullivan, who can’t help but show sometimes that he knows better than his ideology. The most obvious difference btwn K and S limits K’s imagination, of course, but K is all for the dignity of everything the liberationist S imagines doing and really does.

I completely agree with #13. Perhaps you know that the appointment of M. Marshall to the Mass Supreme Judicial Court (she who authored the Goodridge decision) was made by William Weld, the socially liberal/fiscally conservative Republican governor of the Commonwealth, in part as a result of conversations with AS, when he was the NR editor.

Paul, as a longtime TNR and four-year NR suscriber, I think you meant TNR editor, right? I would be rather shocked to learn that the National Review ever employed Sullivan as editor. Of course, your tidbit is juicy enough as it is.

Perhaps it was also by nefarious Sullivan’s advice that she secretly changed her last name to Marshall, so as to irk lovers of jurisprudential wisdom all the more. Surely it was no coincidence!

Oops. Mea culpa. Yes, the John Marshall/Margaret Marshall coincidence has struck me more than once, along with a Lloyd Bentsen-esque comment.

So I read the Fuller review. It was subtle and erudite and all that. But it took AS too seriously as a theorist, I agree. It was barely polemical.

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