Predictably enough for a long-in-the-tooth former Commonweal editor, I’m a daily reader of the print edition of the New York Times. I find much of its cultural coverage hopelessly politically correct and its reporting on religion thin, but its news and political stories are indispensable. Too many of its editorial columnists have worn out their welcome, but the staff and free-lance book reviewers are usually agile. Also predictably enough, I’m a subscriber to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, two sometimes annoyingly lefty stalwarts, but both with rosters of excellent writers. Then there’s the New Yorker, which is worth reading for Anthony Lane alone. So far, so very liberal and conformist.
But in an effort to crawl out from my “epistemic silo,” over the years I have also read a good bit in National Review, First Things, the American Conservative (online), Public Discourse (online), the Catholic Thing (online), and occasionally even the Weekly Standard. For the uninitiated, The Catholic Thing is conservative, pious, and Pope Francis averse, while Public Discourse is conservative and what the pope might call “obsessed” with issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism. Two frequent contributors to the Catholic Thing, David Carlin and Fr. Robert Imbelli, were once regular contributors to Commonweal. Carlin, a philosophy professor and former Rhode Island state senator, was a Commonweal columnist for many years. As a prolife Democrat, he became increasingly alienated from his party by its absolutist position on abortion. Good for him. Imbelli, I think it is fair to say, has over the years come to question the direction in which much of academic theology has gone. Presumably, both writers have found a sympathetic audience among Catholic Thing readers. Imbelli believes that Catholic theology, and much of the church, has lost its Christological focus. Carlin believes that contemporary liberalism undermines religion and is a threat to American democracy.
I have some sympathy for these views, but usually find the remedies proposed vague or unworkable. Still, it is good to be challenged by such writing. For me, this happens more often than I’d like to admit when reading the American Conservative. That magazine, after all, is the creation of Patrick Buchanan, whose politics and runs for the presidency prefigured the rise of Donald Trump. One of the more interesting things about TAC is the skepticism and scorn many of its writers bring to American foreign policy, and especially to U.S. military adventurism. One can admire the consistency of someone who rails against big government at home but also against endless interventionism abroad. Andrew Bacevich, a frequent Commonweal contributor, also happens to be TAC’s writer-at-large. He is as willing to denounce Trump as he is to criticize those who demand that American culture embrace “uninhibited sexual expression, compulsory diversity, and infinite choice on all matters pertaining to personal identity.”