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View From The North
September 22, 2011

Joe Sobran, National Review, and Canada
by Mark Wegierski
fitzgerald griffin foundation

TORONTO, CANADA  — I first became aware of the writing of Joe Sobran in the mid-1970s through the copies of National Review that my high school library, at the unique University of Toronto Schools (UTS), carried. I later received virtually all of the backcopies of NR when the library decided to permanently discard them.

Around 1987 or 1988, I wrote a long cri-de-coeur to Mr. Sobran, attaching several of what I thought were my best essays. I never heard back from him, unfortunately. The firing of Joe Sobran in 1993 was certainly a major factor in my own break with NR in 1994, when I finally cancelled my long-time subscription.

The 1980s were lean years for conservatism in Canada, despite the huge parliamentary majorities that Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney won in 1984 and 1988. Indeed, Brian Mulroney was viscerally mostly a liberal (what is called a “Red Tory” in Canada). At the University of Toronto campus of those days, epithets like “fascist” flew fast and free. Conservatives were often derided as well-heeled, privileged members of a “ruling Party” — whereas the fact was that genuine conservatives (what were called “small-c conservatives”) had almost no influence on the Mulroney government. (Most of the “big-C” Conservative Party derided them as “cashew conservatives,” i.e., “nuts.”) Unlike the case in America and Britain, with its Reagan and Thatcher revolutions, nothing comparable took place in Canada — while Mulroney was rhetorically accused of being an errand-boy for Reagan and Thatcher. During those days, living in a megalopolis of intense left-liberalism like Toronto, it often seemed, as Orwell had put it, that nothing belonged to me except the few cubic centimeters inside my skull.

During the 1980s, the mass media in Canada (before the coming of the Internet, and before the media revolution of sorts that Conrad Black brought about by his purchase of the Southam newspaper chain, and the launching of The National Post in 1998) were almost entirely left-liberal. Mulroney was routinely accused of heading a harsh, “hard right” regime. During this time, Dr. Branka Lapajne tried to launch a monthly newspaper called The Phoenix. I still remember the reprints of Sobran’s writings (illustrated with a picture of a very young Sobran) as probably the best part of that publication.

I suppose one could ascribe to the mysterious workings of Providence the fact that I would finally be able to play a role in Sobran’s endeavors, when, in 2007, I became the first non-Sobran columnist for the fgfBooks website after Sobran’s went into semi-retirement.Thus one could say that my letter was in fact answered, although 20 years later, in the fullness of time.

Sobran’s journalistic career, although marred by tragedy, nevertheless points to the considerable differences between the political cultures of the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., a galvanizing, mobilizing publication, the early National Review, resulted in a flowering of conservatism that was able to achieve some significant societal successes — despite the ever-growing prominence of neoconservatism in the later decades. Canada is, indeed, still waiting for such a transformational publication.

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View From The North is copyright © 2011 by Mark Wegierski and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Please forward this copyright info and links when sending to friends and colleagues.

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas, Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.

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