The catalyst for a career in writing may have been Miss Krenwinkel -- my 8th-grade teacher at Skokie School in Winnetka, Ill. Along about November, she informed my parents I would not be promoted to the vaunted New Trier High School unless I wrote more "compositions."
Winnetka boasted a progressive school system largely shaped by an early superintendent (Carlton Washburn) who had ventured to the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, seanced with Comrade Stalin himself, peered into the ineluctable egalitarian future -- and oohed and aahed.
In Winnetka's elementary and middle schools there were few specifics and no grades -- only feel-good goals. Miss Krenwinkel wouldn't stipulate a number, just more. So my mother decreed one composition a week, and by February the over-pancaked Miss K was cooing. I cruised to New Trier, where my most celebrated classmate was the Swedish-born Ann-Margret (her last name was Olsson and even then she was the stuff of the school's every male dream).
Shortly thereafter, my British-educated father concluded his only son didn't know anything and wouldn't learn it at New Trier. Off I went to boarding school, which disciplined a mind previously empty of it. Then came college, and the sole conservative full professor on the faculty (David Rowe), and the sole conservative column (Borborygmi) in the oldest college daily.
Thereafter, graduate school and a two-year tutelage under a gentle counter-revolutionary academic (Leo Strauss) proved seminal. Strauss taught persuasion through close textual analysis of political philosophers ancient and modern. He wrote key works such as "Thoughts on Machiavelli," "Natural Right and History," and "Persecution and the Art of Writing." Strauss fled Hitler's Germany, and once situated in the American academy, so rattled wacky modern behaviorists that periodically pieces still appear blaming him for Ronald Reagan and the Bush invasions of Iraq.
In this education far better than anyone deserves, two others honed a young writer -- J.J. Kilpatrick briefly at The News Leader in 1965-66 and, before that at National Review over the course of two college years, William Buckley.
Buckley was the key player not only in writing and editing but in targeting the proper enemy. Fascism, Communism, and Islamofascism, with their accompanying terrors and horrors, would not have held sway for long had it not been for an American progressivism, leftism, socialism, liberalism -- call it what you will -- shilling for them. Rationalizing the irrational, accepting it, embracing it, explaining it as morally no worse (and sometimes far better) than an America -- a West, a Free World -- hopelessly mediocre and ineluctably malign.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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