I Was a Teenage Conservative

The dead end of politics & the possibilities of art

I want to relate my work as the editor of a quarterly journal of literature and the arts to the larger patterns of Catholic civic engagement in America today. The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that the best way to address it is to attempt something of a self-portrait, to describe both the evolution of my ideas and some of the reasons for my conversion to the Catholic church.

I was born with the conservative intellectual movement’s silver spoon in my mouth. As early as the 1950s my father was at the center of the emerging conservative intellectual movement. He worked for a small foundation in a suburb of New York that promoted the virtues of the free market. Bill Buckley came there to discuss the idea of starting up a magazine to be called National Review.

By the time I got to college age it was only natural that I would go to the academic mecca of conservatism in America, Hillsdale College in Michigan. In the late 1970s two great scholars taught there, Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer. Nearly fifty years after its publication, Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953) remains a brilliant, graceful synthesis of European and American traditionalist ideas from Edmund Burke to T.S. Eliot. Though the movement Kirk helped to launch would degenerate into a large, fractious coalition dominated by Washington-based think tanks, his own thought manifests an amplitude of mind and heart that cannot...

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