My recent article on William F. Buckley generated more controversy than I anticipated—including one disapproving comment from the former publisher of National Review. Well, very good! Journalism isn’t a lucrative profession, and I don’t think I’m compromising any trade secrets by saying so. A writer must be satisfied in knowing that his work is read and weighed by his readers. This one, at least, seems to have been.
A smaller controversy focused on my calling Buckley’s own 2007 column on smoking “manly.” One commenter wrote that “it just doesn’t really seem masculine or feminine in any identifiable way. Is it just that you agree with it?” Quite the opposite, in fact. It has nothing to do with my agreeing or not, but rather Buckley’s disagreeing with himself.
The opposite of “manly” isn’t “womanly,” we know, because Man and Woman are complimentary, not antithetical. A better antonym would be “neuter”: de-sexed, genderless, disembodied. This is what Russell Kirk meant when he called John Stuart Mill a “defecated intellect”: he’d purged himself of his humanity in order to become a creature of pure, objective reason. One who hates the body and delights in the mind we Christians call Gnostic.
This is a charge commonly brought against libertarians by conservatives and progressives alike. Their ideology seems cold and unfeeling: indeed, inhuman. But the solution is not the progressive’s humanism, which reduces the humane (that is, human-ness) to yet more neutered sentiments that don’t correspond to our nature. The humanist may be kind, but Man is magnanimous and Woman is sweet. The humanist is empathetic; Man is protective and Woman nurturing.
The libertarian is a defecated universalist; the progressive is a sensual universalist. We conservatives, however, are Christian particularists. We have no desire for a mind that transcends the body; neither do we seek for a body that transcends the mind. I’m a 25-year-old Catholic Bostonian of WASP and Irish extraction; it’s not for me to tell a 60-year-old medicine woman on the Great Steppe how to run her yurt.