Like many conservatives, I have been disappointed by the slow slide leftward of the National Review. I do not know if Buckley’s spiritual children have gone native among the Leftists who dominate the media, the academy, and the state or if those wily former Trotskyite neocons have infiltrated and transformed the erstwhile conservative publication from within. It could just be a case of a loss of vigilance, thereby ironically manifesting O’Sullivan’s First Law. Nonetheless, I still find many jewels among the mire. I appreciate Andrew McCarthy’s refreshing honesty and insight, I devotedly listen to John Derbyshire’s weekly webcasts, and I enjoy Jay Nordlinger’s “Impromptus.” These are interesting, short notes that often relate to recent headline stories but sometimes offer a needed respite from l’idiotie quotidienne. Last month, for instance, Nordlinger wrote:
Not long ago, I was in Norway, talking with some politicos — right of center. (Well, in Norway, you could be a socialist, and still be right of center. I mean “right of center” even in American terms.) I said, “Obama is the perfect American president for the Norwegian political culture, isn’t he? I mean, no wonder they gave him the Nobel prize. He’s left-wing, he apologizes for America, he wants a more Norwegian-like state, he’s pro-abortion, he’s anti-Israel, he venerates the U.N. — he’s even black. He’s perfect.”
One of the Norwegians said, “No, he could be gay. Then he’d be perfect.” I said, “I stand corrected, my friend.”
In a recent column — or some Corner posts, or both — I spoke of graciousness among colleagues (basically). Tell you what I mean. I recalled what the pianist Gilels said, when he first toured the United States: “Wait’ll you hear Richter.” And I told the story about Caruso and McCormack. (One says, “It’s an honor to meet the world’s greatest tenor.” The other says, “I was just going to say the same thing.”)
My friend Robert Marshall, the eminent musicologist, sent a note about Haydn and Mozart. They admired each other tremendously, and praised each other to the skies. Marshall thinks there may be nothing else quite like it in history. Often, a big artist feels comfortable praising someone long dead — not someone alive, kicking, and working.
You remember Haydn’s famous praise of Mozart, expressed personally in 1785 to Leopold [Mozart’s father] (who naturally — and surely expectedly — passed it on to Wolfgang): “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me,” etc. That same year, Wolfgang published those six incredible string quartets, accompanied by a most flattering dedication to Haydn — the kind of public tribute musicians typically addressed to patrons and aristocrats, not to colleagues.
I then recalled something Lorin Maazel said to me, in an interview. (Maazel is one of the leading conductors in the world.) (Not talking trains.) I forget how this came up. But Maazel said, “At the highest level, there is no envy or rivalry, only mutual esteem.” Marshall then remembered a colleague of his at the University of Chicago: Edward Lowinsky.
The issue was faculty recruitment (which can be very, very touchy). Lowinsky said, “First-rate people want first-rate colleagues; second-rate people want fifth-rate colleagues.”
That strikes me as very true.
Nordlinger always informs and often delights. He represents conservatism well in that he frequently addresses larger cultural issues; man ought not to be reduced to homo electorus. Small minded partisan fever is indigenous to the ideological Left; let us always breathe fresh air and remind ourselves that “politics” in its mean, American sense is not worth the full attention of decent human beings.