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.
Today's liberalism is the fascist socialism that dares not speak its name, and so ascribes to itself the moniker "moderation." Scratch a moderate and in most cases you'll find a liberal. Thus the line emanating from, for instance, such fens of leftism as The New York Times and NPR: Nobody here but us moderates.
Liberal ideology is a distorting lens through which its adherents view the culture, the nation, the world. Today it is an oozy brew of odd insistences from greenies, trial lawyers, vain pols, Obamian polarizers, public unionists, mainline clergy, Hollywoodists, guilt-trippers, academics, and Ivy-type pressies. Too often it shamelessly reckons the obscene as normal, defines military weakness as strength, views the American experiment as racism rampant, and postulates free-markets as hammering -- always -- the poor.
It sees bigger government as generally wiser and better, preaches unaffordable pensions for everybody, resists tax simplification and tax cuts, stands resolute against real debt reduction and spending cuts, disdains entitlement reform, includes "sustainability" and "corporate responsibility" as major items on every good leftist's list, burns hot with hatred of a square-peg Palin feminism not fitting round-hole leftist prescription, and deems teapartiers impudent ignoramuses and fatuous rubes. The Hoover Institution's Shelby Steele writes that liberals regard "bad faith in America as virtue itself, and bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America."
In, 1949 Lionel Trilling, an icon of the left, described liberalism as "not only the (nation's) dominant but sole intellectual tradition." That presumes to encompass (a) the penmen of the New World's first political document -- the Mayflower Compact, which begins, ever so leftishly, "In the name of God. Amen"; (b) William Bradford's Plymouth Plantation; and (c) both the federalists and anti-federalists of the Founding era. On the contrary, George Washington rode at the head of an emphatically conservative revolution.
Today's liberal fashion routinely consists in a rhetoric of pity and guilt -- and so retains a continuing advantage in the presentation of its goals. Yet George Orwell likely had a leftist statism in mind when writing, in "Politics and the English Language," that "political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful...and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
Principal aims throughout the 30 years of this column have been to lean into that wind -- to pick through liberalism's uncountable double standards, to ruffle its meticulously preened feathers, to trip the strutting ironies of its idiot rationales. And along the way to assert the virtue of prudent alternatives grounded in the abiding values of a nation still experimenting with the liberty that is this world's ultimate cause.