Being a full-time lawyer and conscientious blogger has really cut into my reading time, and I rarely find the time to read the books sent to me for reviews and/or plugs on Power Line. Why I Turned Right, edited by Mary Eberstadt, promised to be a partial exception to that unhappy rule. It consists of essays in which twelve conservatives explain how they ended up as such, I figured I’d read the three or four by the writers who interest me the most.
In the end, I read the whole thing, and so should you. The essays essentially narrate the intellectual voyages of twelve leading thinkers under a certain age (I’m guessing around 60, with the average age under 50) who can be considered conservative. They are: Peter Berkowitz, Joseph Bottum, David Brooks, Danielle Crittenden, Dinesh D’Souza, Stanley Kurtz, Tod Lindberg, Rich Lowry, Heather Mac Donald, P.J. O’Rourke, Sally Satel, and Richard Starr.
Not all of them actually turned right. Lowry was never other than a conservative — his tale is about how he became an armed and dangerous one. Crittenden was always conservative — her tale is about how she shed the feminism of the 1970s. O’Rourke came from good Republican stock and returned to something like his roots after getting (in his telling) as much sex as he could from the “fetching” girls of the left who wore “peasant blouses, denim skirts, and sandals” and “strummed guitars, smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and drank beer straight from the bottle.”
The essays I enjoyed most were by those who turned right as a result of studying or working in a discipline that isn’t (or, rather, that shouldn’t be) political. I’m thinking in particular of Heather McDonald and Sally Satel, whose movement started when they were studying comparative literature and practicing psychiatry, respectively. (I could also include Peter Berkowitz and Stanley, who have studied many things — some political, some less so — and been influenced rightward in all instances).
Here’s Mac Donald on the deconstructionists:
The professoriate has been given the greatest luxury society can offer: studying beauty. All that they needed to do to justify that privilege was to help their students see why they should fall on bended knee before Aeschylus, Mozart, or Tiepolo, in thanks for lifting us out of our usual stupidity and dullness. Instead, they set themselves up as more important than the literature and art that it was their duty to curate and created a tangle of antihumanistic nonsense that merely licensed students’ ignorance.
And here’s Satel on what she learned working on mental health issues during a Capitol Hill fellowship:
My Hill experience gave me a startling insight: Liberals and conservatives seemed to have mirror-image approaches to paternalism. Liberals made intrusive laws for the competent while conservatives preferred to rely on individuals to make their own decisions. Conversely, conservatives preferred intrusive laws for the incompetnet to whom liberals applied a hands-off policy. Liberals were comfortable with public health paternalism: intrusive nonsmoking laws, taxes on unhealthy products, strict risk-averse EPA and FDA regulations. . . .Yet, when a person was incoherent, defecating in the streets, or freezing a limb off in the part, then — and only then — did the principles of autonomy apply.
As I suggested, read the whole thing.