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The Confederate Lawyer
October 8, 2010

Joe Sobran and Hamlet
by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — Robert Royal concludes his obituary of Joe Sobran with Shakespeare’s words to the dying Hamlet, “Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Joe, who loved Shakespeare, no doubt appreciates the tribute.

Joe was like Hamlet in ways beyond their shared nobility of the heart. Hamlet was not the classic tragic hero destroyed by “boundless ambition.” He was a good man who was forced to “take arms against a sea of troubles” by duty and events beyond his control, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Lying psychiatrists and psychologists have tried to depict Hamlet as mad, but they are wrong. He was simply a noble young man who suffered from the evils of his elders. Joe was similarly an innocent and noble victim of his wicked elders.

I can remember Joe walking from National Review to Saint Agnes Church to go to confession. He, a senior editor at National Review in those days, had a bright future before him.

Joe loved many things and many people. He loved the English language and wrote in it brilliantly. He also loved the United States Constitution and understood it, something few people still do. He grasped the profound damage to the Constitution by Lincoln and by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He rejected the absurd idea that the New Deal should be incorporated into the conservative tradition. He never accepted the notion that the federal government should always win and the states should always lose.

Joe took up arms against Gary Wills, who originally established himself as a conservative but quickly revealed himself as a virulent internal enemy “within” the Catholic Church. In contrast, Joe wrote for Catholic publications as a champion of orthodoxy. His political writings strongly reflected the style and substance of the earliest days of National Review.

Things were changing, however. National Review was embracing federal power. The foreign threat to America was altering. America was adjusting to almost certainly becoming the only superpower. On the domestic level, disorder and immorality were rampant. Fundamental attacks on civilization were increasing, especially the legalization of the killing of unborn children. Throughout all, Joe remained faithful to the views that energized the reawakening of American conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Eventually, National Review fired Joe. This was a blow to him on a purely material level, something he never seemed to care much about. On the spiritual level, the firing was more of a blow to National Review than to Joe. What made matters tragic was that William F. Buckley and the crowd of neoconservatives worming their way into the magazine launched a campaign of libel and slander against Joe that lasted the rest of his life and cost him potential friends and audiences.

This campaign consisted of constant charges of anti-Semitism. Austria has a law making denial of the holocaust a serious crime (just like bank robbery). An English historian visited Austria many years after he had published and later repudiated a denial of the holocaust. This made him a dangerous criminal under Austrian law and, sure enough, the authorities imprisoned him for a long term. Joe defended him. One would think that conservatives and liberals alike would condemn the holding of people as common criminals for years for a false conclusion in an academic paper, but that did not happen. The liberals and the neoconservatives rallied to the defense of the Austrian law and condemned Joe.

Similarly, Joe could not understand why Catholic nuns should not pray for the repose of the souls of the victims killed at Auschwitz; this position earned him additional charges of anti-Semitism. Finally, he disagreed with virtually the entirety of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Time will prove him right or wrong, but his positions were beyond doubt consistent and principled.

Nothing in Joe’s writings justifies the abuse he has taken over the years. There is no greater proof of the nobility of his heart than the way he endured so much undeserved abuse with good humor. He remained faithful to the truth while others lied about him. Although he died of complications of diabetes rather than from a poisoned sword, he nonetheless died, like Hamlet, a noble and consistent friend of truth in a nest of villains.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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