That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
December 20, 2016

Purging Joe Sobran again: the Cadaver Synod

“And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”


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Our Lord enjoined us to love our neighbors and our enemies. A friend of mine used to add, "Probably because they are so often the same people."

His wisdom inspired me, when The Last Ditch was first published, to warn Strakon: "The first time this newsletter is attacked in print, it will be in a libertarian publication." And sure enough, the first time we were attacked in print, it was in Liberty magazine (which may have been the only time Liberty took notice of us).

Similarly, more than six years after his death, Joe Sobran continues to come under attack in conservative publications, this time in The Liberty Conservative. In a kind of Cadaver Synod, Ron Capshaw has given us "The Anti-Semitism of Joe Sobran." The point seems to be, "We conservatives are not anti-Semites, and to prove it, I shall denounce one of our own."

I guess I should not be surprised that anyone considers it necessary to attack a man no longer here to defend himself with some withering funny reply. As Joe once put it to me, "Some people just can't stop thinking about my obsessions."

A bit of background before I continue. Joe and I had met in 1980 and became friends quickly. He started his newsletter, Sobran's: The Real News of the Month, in September 1994, and for all but the last two or three issues of its history, I was its managing editor. I was the manager, editor, and proofreader of his website from 1996 until its replacement by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation's website. All of Joe's columns and essays from that period may be found both there and at sobran.com, which is still archived on the Internet. (A guide to those essays may be found here.)

For much of that time, I met with Joe at least twice a week to discuss both business and matters that never found their way into the newsletter or the website. We also got together for social occasions and just to hang out, and I spent a few hours with him the day before he died. During the nearly 30 years of our acquaintance, I probably knew his mind as well as anyone else. (And I'm going to say it here: a comment he made in print which was credited as being one of his best jokes ever was one he stole from me. I was honored.)

Joe Sobran's writings speak for themselves. Anyone who wants to know what he has to say about anything can usually find it in his own words without much effort. But we are not living in an intellectual climate where people make an honest effort to understand what others are saying. Instead, we are living in a time when writers and speakers brazenly misrepresent what others have said. And their readers and hearers are willing to get what passes for information from people who are either dishonest or simply too lazy not to be misinformed. I have therefore decided not to let Capshaw get away with his tired misrepresentations. And in any case, in a Cadaver Synod, someone has to be the deacon answering the charges put to the corpse, and that is the role I propose to fill.

Let us take his assertions in order.

Capshaw says that William F. Buckley had successfully kept "anti-semitic elements" and "fascist sympathizers" out of the pages of his magazine, National Review, from its inception "until Joseph Sobran joined the magazine in 1972." We are told that Joe "was able to more or less keep his controversial sentiments under wraps until 1993." One would think that Joe was a sneaky writer, hiding his anti-Semitism (or was it fascism?) from Buckley until he apparently could contain himself no longer, and then out it popped.

Capshaw offers no evidence whatever of Sobran's concealing his views. In fact, Joe's views on Israel and Jews emerged and were developed over several years. He was alert to the behavior of politicians and his fellow conservatives when they wrote about Israel or Jews, and he was a friend of John Murray ("Jack") Cuddihy, whose study The Ordeal of Civility had some influence on him. (The entry in Wikipedia on Cuddihy refrains from calling him an anti-Semite.) In a conversation in the mid 1980s I asked Joe whether he had found evidence in America for the existence of "Jewish power." He replied that he had not, "but there's an awful lot of fear of it."

What happened in 1993 is a well-known story among readers of Joe's articles. It is recounted in Steve Sniegoski's obituary "Joe Sobran: Martyr for Truth"; Joe's own account of it can be found in his essay "How I Was Fired by Bill Buckley." The previous year, Buckley had made the matter of accusations of Joe as an anti-Semite public when he devoted the 1992 Christmas (!) issue (traditionally given to Buckley's sister to edit and fill) to anti-Semitism. In that article (later expanded into a book) he explained that it was possible to make anti-Semitic statements and not be an anti-Semite, "which is as far as I go against Sobran." He added that others might come to different conclusions. (Others, of course, had. Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter [Podhoretz] had been advising Buckley to fire Joe.)

Capshaw then tells us that Joe had called Israel a "'tiny, faraway, socialist ethnocracy,' and worse, 'a treacherous and costly "ally" of the United States,' whose support by America would eventually result in 9-11."

Capshaw is playing fast and loose with grammatical tenses here. Of course, in 1993 Joe had said nothing about 9/11, those attacks not having yet occurred. But beyond that, please note: Joe's offense here was that he had said Israel was "tiny" (true), "faraway" (true), "socialist" (true), and an "ethnocracy" (also true). Is the alliance with Israel costly? I think that any ally that requires so much financial aid from the United States can be said to be costly. Is it treacherous? Well, I suppose one can argue that it is not, but if one will do that, at the very least he should say a few words about Jonathan Pollard, the role Israel played in his espionage, and the payments it made to him.

As for whether the alliance "would eventually result in 9-11," we have no less an authority than Osama bin Laden, who told us it was one of the three reasons he had for "declaring war" on the United States. (For the sake of the discussion, I am assuming that Osama bin Laden had something to do with the 9/11 attacks.) If saying things that are true and others that are at least arguably true makes one an anti-Semite, how can one avoid being an anti-Semite?

Fortunately for us, the rest of Capshaw's article instructs us how to avoid being an anti-Semite.

Capshaw tells us that Joe did not just attack Israel; he attacked Jews in general, in words "eerily reminiscent of [Father Charles] Coughlin and [Gerald L.K.] Smith, and even [Adolf] Hitler himself." We are not given any words of those three to see for ourselves whether what Joe had to say was "eerily reminiscent" of them. We are just expected to believe (I suppose) that all those darned anti-Semites sound alike anyway. For the most part, the only writer I can recall anyone's saying Joe sounded like was G.K. Chesterton (about which more later). I've read Mein Kampf, and I challenge anyone familiar with it to come up with anything that Joe ever wrote that sounds like it, "eerily" or not. Quite frankly, the one thing Joe's writings never were, was turgid.

The passage Capshaw quotes that is so "eerily reminiscent" of the other writers he named comes from the essay "The Church and Jewish Ideology" (Sobran's, May 1999). Capshaw inserts an ellipsis after the word "nihilistic" in his quotation, but it looks like a typographical error. That is probably not his fault, but it does mean that a reader who thought the doubled period was a typographical error might never suspect that there were omitted paragraphs that supplied connections between the ideas Joe expressed in the two sentences that were separated by the truncated ellipsis. Even an attentive reader would have no reason to go to the original to see what the ellipsis was replacing. In those omitted paragraphs, Joe had supplied reasons for what he was saying, reasons that his readers could weigh and consider (for example, that there was widespread Jewish support for abortion [true], widespread Jewish support for Communism and the Soviet Union [true], and widespread Jewish opposition to Christianity [also true]). It was never part of his writing just to hurl accusations around to work readers up into a righteous frenzy and send them into the world with self-congratulatory torches and farm implements.

That barely noticeable ellipsis also conceals the fact that Joe's text contained the qualifications and nuances he was usually careful to include; but then, nuances and qualifications are not the sort of thing usually associated with anti-Semitic writings, so it's best to omit them when the corpse is on trial.

Capshaw quotes part of one of the intervening paragraphs to further illustrate Joe's "eerie" similarity to Hitler and others, but somehow omits the sentence that immediately follows the remarks he quotes, to wit: "This fanatical antagonism causes anguish to a number of religious, conscientious, and far-sighted Jews, but they, alas, are outside the Jewish mainstream." Believing that there are a "number of religious, conscientious, and far-sighted Jews," who, "alas, are outside the Jewish mainstream" does not, of course, count in favor of a man when one is deciding whether he is an anti-Semite. But then, hardly anything does.

And it is worth underscoring that the "annihilation of Christianity" to which Joe refers in the paragraph Capshaw quotes was the program of Communism. He does not impute it to Jews as such, but only says that enough Jews supported the Soviet Union that Bolshevism was often called "Jewish" (true). And that many Jews continued to support it even after it had purged Jews from its ruling body (also true).

Is that sufficient to label a man with the career-killing epithet "an anti-Semite"? Well, of course it is. If you utter the slightest objection to Israel or to the voting record of Jews or notice that certain opinions are routinely expressed by people who "happen to be" Jews, it is obvious that you are in favor of the gas chambers (about which more shortly).

And if you use the word "Jewry," you are almost certainly an anti-Semite. When he was writing, Joe always knew the meaning of the words he was using, and he cared little for the stupid connotations that people sometimes imputed to them. The "Free Soviet Jewry" movement was fresh in his memory. And though a Catholic, he may have known the Prayer Book version of the 76th Psalm ("In Jewry is God known"), but perhaps I am forgetting that Christian versions of the Old Testament are sometimes thought to be anti-Semitic.

Of course, all this talk of anti-Semitism sooner or later has to lead to accusations of "Holocaust denial." Capshaw, wishing to make readers believe that he has actually thought about matters and researched Joe's writings, quotes excerpts from a passage in Joe's essay "'For Fear of the Jews,'" which appeared in the September 2002 issue, an article he wrote as a result of the fuss created by his appearance at a conference held by the Institute for Historical Review (also about which more later). Capshaw says that Joe "asserted that the 'standard numbers of Jews murdered' was 'inaccurate,' and that the 'intent' of the Nazis was not 'racial extermination.'"

Remember that word "asserted."

The matter came up in a discussion of Joe's about the rage expressed against Mark Weber and the IHR itself, rage Joe does not understand. Here is the actual text containing the words Capshaw quotes: "Why on earth is it 'anti-Jewish' to conclude from the evidence that the standard numbers of Jews murdered are inaccurate, or that the Hitler regime, bad as it was in many ways, was not, in fact, intent on racial extermination?"

I cannot speak for the readers of The Liberty Conservative, but I am confident that the readers of The Last Ditch are perfectly capable of telling the difference between an assertion that one makes and asking a question about assertions that others make. I think that at this point the reader can understand why Joe wrote (in the same essay), "My enemies are always welcome to quote anything I say, if they dare." It is clear that Capshaw simply does not dare, and I think it is fairly clear why.

We are then told why Buckley fired Joe: "Sobran sealed his fate with Buckley by suggesting that the New York Times change its name to Holocaust Update and appearing on panels with the fascist historian (and historian of fascism) David Irving as well as speaking before the Institute for Historical Review, the world's largest Holocaust denial group. Buckley fired him in 1993."

I am not sure why it is so bad to be a historian of fascism, but I guess it is. In any case, once again, Capshaw is playing fast and loose with grammatical tenses. I do not believe that Joe even knew David Irving in 1993. At that time Irving was still an almost universally respected historian of the Third Reich, with a reputation that was enhanced when he became the first to identify the "Hitler diaries" as forgeries. Irving did not become a hated figure with whom one associated only at risk to his career until after 1996, when he published his biography, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich. And I know of no conferences Irving held until 1999.

As for the crack about the New York Times, Joe had made it in 1985. I guess Joe was pretty unsuccessful in keeping his "controversial sentiments under wraps until 1993" after all. But does Capshaw really want us to think that Buckley noodled over that phrase "Holocaust Update" for eight years before dropping the ax on Joe in 1993?

Apparently Capshaw wants us to believe that Buckley was at the same time prescient and dilatory.

Capshaw then tells us, "But such was [Sobran's] allegiance to the Institute for Historical Review, that he blew an offer for him to write for Pat Buchanan's (a friend who called Sobran 'the greatest columnist of our generation') The American Conservative. His refusal to cancel an appearance before that group made editor Scott McConnell withdraw the offer."

What I now relate is my own recollection of the matter as told to me by Joe. It may be that Capshaw has other sources, but on the basis of what we have seen so far, I believe that I can be forgiven for doubting it.

As Joe related the matter to me while it was unfolding and before it reached its conclusion, Scott McConnell did not make any offer to him whatever. Joe had accepted an invitation to speak at an IHR conference (probably on Lincoln, but perhaps on the Constitution), and McConnell called him to tell him that if he kept that engagement, he could never write for The American Conservative, which was then in the planning stages. (The appearances at Irving conferences — where he again probably spoke on Lincoln: I do not recall precisely — figured into this matter not at all, since the first one had already occurred a year earlier, in 2001; there was a later appearance in, I think, 2004.)

Anyone who knew Joe could predict what would happen next: Joe was not a man to be intimidated. Nobody could ever tell him what to write or say or for whom to say it or to whom. Joe kept the engagement, of course. McConnell did not withdraw an offer. He merely carried out his commination.

There were three reasons Joe kept the engagement, and surely everyone who knew him can tell you what they were, even if they never talked to him about it: First, he was not one to be pushed around or forced to leave friends hanging in the wind. The second reason was, as he put it to me, "What matters is what you say, not to whom you say it." As for the third, the sad truth is that his finances were a shambles, and no one except Sobran's, The Wanderer (a Catholic weekly in which Joe had a regular column), and IHR (for this appearance) was paying him for anything; and even the income from those sources was hardly enough to keep body and soul together.

Finally, Capshaw ends his ramshackle article with these words: "Until his death in 2010, Sobran continued his associations." May I say ... You damned right he did. Joe Sobran was an honorable man who was true to his friends and benefactors. And he was even truer to his enemies than they deserved. He did not abandon people merely because some influential "others" had stabbed them in the back. If he liked you, it didn't matter to him who didn't. He encouraged Nicholas Strakon and me when we started The Last Ditch, even though at the same time he was starting his own newsletter. And if he quarreled with you — yes, anyone who knew him, knew that Joe Sobran could sometimes be unreasonable and quarrel with his friends — he was always ready to bury any hatchets that might be lying around.

If you don't believe it, read what Joe had to say about Bill Buckley in 2006 in "Buckley and His Heirs" and "The Real Bill Buckley." Don't think Joe didn't take some heat from his own admirers for those columns.

Then there was the evening when I deleted from his computer the entire text of his nearly completed study Alias Shakespeare, then a work in progress. What he said to me on that occasion, which I shall leave for another time, is truly one of the treasured memories of my life.

We at The Last Ditch do not particularly like being called part of the "conservative movement," but since we often are, let me add that we also — with Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter — do not denounce Joe Sobran as a fascist, a racist, or any other goram thing.

Capshaw winds up his Cadaver Synod with the perplexing claim that in most circles Joe "is denounced as at best, an anti-Semite; at worst, a fascist." It seems that Capshaw is simply courting an accusation of being called an anti-Semite himself, for he thinks it is worse to be called a fascist (usually nothing worse than a boring and overused smear) than to be called an anti-Semite (a career-killer from which there is no reprieve).

And what is wrong with Ann Coulter's calling Joe "the G.K. Chesterton of his time"? Doesn't Capshaw know that he's supposed to think Chesterton also was an anti-Semite? Ω

December 20, 2016

Published in 2016 by WTM Enterprises.

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