Standing Athwart!

by John Kirke  3/7/15

[John Kirke sent the below, asking us to pass it along as a guest blog post.]

National Review Online’s recent redesign has made the site nearly unnavigable, which would be a greater offense if it’s content was still worth reading for reasons beyond morbid curiosity. For those who couldn’t find them or didn’t bother looking, here’s a quick glance at some of the articles published in the last 24 hours.

Yesterday afternoon, NRO published a piece by The New Atlantis senior editor Caitrin Keiper, praising Feld Entertainment’s recent announcement to phase out the use of elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus. She approvingly quotes the question asked in a First Things essay, “Why aren’t vegetarians and pro-lifers more closely aligned?”

This morning, we have an NRO interview conducted by editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez, about an joint editorial issued by four Catholic publications, calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. There’s not a single question that challenges the position, presenting the conservative argument for capital punishment even as a kind of devil’s advocacy.

Finally, this morning we also have a piece from Charles C.W. Cooke, one of NRO’s most prominent staff writers, criticizing the Republican Party’s leadership for their absence in today’s ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma. Their absence is not just a lost political opportunity, it shows that they don’t understand the meaning of Selma, that the march is as important as the end of the war for American independence and that MLK is as important as George Washington.


“If all men really are created equal, the anniversary of Selma must be treated as a date every bit as important to American history as is the end of the Siege of Yorktown.” [emphasis mine]

“If we are to put George Washington upon our plinths, and to eulogize him on our currency, we must agree to elevate Martin Luther King Jr. to the same dizzy heights.” [emphasis mine]

This isn’t what I would expect from NRO long before another election cycle ramps up: for the last decade, the pattern seems to have been posting uncontroversial arguments for conservatism in the off year to add weight to their work for the GOP establishment’s managerial progressive in the presidential primaries.

But evidently this is what passes for conservatism today at National Review, the magazine founded to stand athwart history, yelling Stop. It may be a temporary thing, but their site redesign affected the page for the mission statement, dropping that most famous phrase and the bulk of the manifesto, leaving only a sentence and a half from the first paragraph.

That seems about right.

John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949).

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John Kirke

About John Kirke

John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including "Lawrence" in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949).
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20 Responses to Standing Athwart!

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Well, I read the Cooke piece, though not the others. I generally don’t page down much. Of course, NRO has been increasingly corrupted by NYC-DC moderation, the desire to “stand tall in Georgetown” (as Allen Drury put it in Capable of Honor). I think Cooke was right that the Republicans should have had a good presence at Selma. It was an opportunity to remind people of what real civil rights involve.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I do not like the new website, at all. But that is small potatoes compared to the slide in content.

    Cooke is a pompous ass who has little ability to differentiate between shades of importance and value. He throws everything against the wall, metaphorically speaking, and waits to see what sticks.

  3. Anniel says:

    I loved NRO, and Jonah Goldberg, when it first started. Now you couldn’t pay me enough to follow it, and when I see Jonah on Townhall I don’t even bother with his headlines. Poor Mr. Buckley must have a corkscrew grave he’s had to turn over so many times.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m pretty much in the same boat regarding Jonah. It’s not so much that I can’t bear to read him. He can still make some excellent points. But there are so many books and so many articles, I have to filter. And he got filtered out for a host of reasons. And it’s no so much that I disagree with him. It’s just that he’s tacked left, hasn’t been forthright about it, and that leaves me seeing him more as Jonah Inc. than a sincere guy who writes boldly, thoughtfully, and eloquently.

      I hope everyone who contributes here is anchored in something deeper than popularity, wanting to appear on a Fox News panel, or selling books to the masses. And I think we are and that’s why, although we might not always be as “polished” as the nose-breathers in the beltway, you’re bound to get more Palin-like reality, and from far fewer words.

      No one is perfect. And I hope I never dispense with a person because of one article or point of disagreement. And god knows some of the things I’ve said. But it’s the honesty factor I find troubling. I love reading David Berlinski, for example, even though I don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. But he backs his opinions up; and not with rationalizations and slogans but with careful reasoning. One can disagree with someone’s conclusions, but it helps to see where they’re coming from. It helps that they are treating you with enough respect to show you why they think what they think.

      I know Lawrence has some fundamental disagreements with Kevin Williamson. But I find Kevin to be forthright and honest. When I disagree, I still see where he’s coming from and have the feeling he’s presenting his case honestly and that there isn’t some ulterior motive.

      That’s really all we can ask…and a base level of competence regarding the subject, which is why I tend to pull my hair out when reading the religious opinions of Kathryn Jean Lopez.

      What a sweet lady but, geez Louise, she has not (like many Catholics) found a way to sometimes distinguish between Jesus and social justice. Lawrence, on the other hand, is capable of giving exquisite opinions on religion, which is one reason I begged and cajoled him to write for this site. I’ve read the best of the best regarding religious/spiritual issues regarding Christianity, so I guess I’m spoiled and it’s hard for me to read what is, in effect, boilerplate from Lopez. NRO could really use a good house writer regarding moral, ethical, and religious issues. At least they do run Prager articles.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This is why I kept reading George Will years ago when I disagreed with him so often (he’s gotten more conservative as he ages and acquires more wisdom). He usually made a good case. If nothing else, understanding why someone like that is wrong is good mental exercise.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I was telling Lawrence in the background, he can slap me if I ever bog down this site with bobbles and such. Sometimes we have slowdowns, but usually those are temporary and are caused by things that are best described as gremlins. But this new design at NRO is not only less functional; it’s slower.

    A small re-arrange of the web site would have been fine. There are a few improvements I would have added. I would have had some kind of a pop-up next to the author’s name to get to their previous two or three articles. Simple stuff like that. But what they’ve done is to consciously strain any kind of personality from their site. It’s a bunch of blocks and looks like a bazillion other sites out there. “Is this a travel agency?” the casual browser must think.

    It’s a hodgepodge. There’s no sense of order. It’s not intelligently designed. The American Spectator did a redesign a year ago or so to a horrible green theme. Overall it still works okay, although there are some technical drawbacks when browsing via a tablet computer. But they didn’t ruin the site. Arguable, they made a few small enhancements. But they really should get rid of the green.

    Cooke is a libertarian and not a particularly thoughtful one. I think VDH, Andy, and Kevin are consistently worth reading. Not much else is. I haven’t seen many Tanner articles lately and he usually has a sane opinion. Jonah has tacked left with the culture and hasn’t done so particularly honestly.

    The common denominator I think is whether or not one has bought into naturalism (which effects every subject under the sun and splits them between right and left) which is absorbed like the air (or beer, or cigars) at universities, in the beltway, and all around. If all your friends are speaking Language A and those who speak Language B are all considered boobs by the people you hang out with, then the tendency is to mold yourself to Language A.

    Had Jonah, for instance, displayed even an ounce of self-awareness (or honesty) about his move to the approval of gay marriage, that would have been one thing. But to frame the question the way he did a couple years ago (in an article I obviously haven’t forgotten) showed he had other motives. Again, if all your friends or the people you depend on for “respectability” all believe in Darwinism, in “social justice,” in “tolerance,” in evolutionary psychology, and — most importantly — if you view as embarrassing boobs those who do not think life is random and pointless and who believe in objective values, you may will find yourself tacking left and doing anything but “standing athwart.”

    Let me take a quote from an essay by Nancy R. Pearcey (a chick!) from Uncommon Dissent which is a collection of essays. I got this book a couple days ago for my Kindle and am loving it. The one essay before Pearcey’s is a bit of a clunker. But the others I’ve read (so far…I’m only 20% into this) have been well worth the price of admission. Pearcey makes an excellent and often over-looked point (but if you have the mindset to “stand athwart,” it’s funny how you may see things that others miss):


    Unless we grasp the crucial role played by philosophical assumptions, we will not engage the origins debate effectively. The influential cultural analyst Francis Schaeffer once wrote that the central reason religious believers have not been more effective in addressing modern culture is that they tend to see things in “bits and pieces.” They worry about individual moral controversies, like family breakdown, decadent entertainment, abortion and the life issues, and so on. But they don’t see the big picture that connects all the dots.

    And what is that big picture? All these forms of cultural dissolution, Schaeffer writes, have “come about due to a shift in worldview … to a worldview based on the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its current form by impersonal chance.”6 In other words, long before there was an Intelligent Design movement, he understood that everything hangs on your view of origins. If you start with impersonal forces operating by chance (in other words, naturalistic evolution), then over time you will end up with naturalism in moral, social, and political philosophy.

    Or, she might have added at the end of that quote, “On NRO as well.” The quote continues:

    Many evolutionists today would agree with Schaeffer. In fact, one of the fastest-growing disciplines today is the application of evolution to social issues, under the rubric of evolutionary psychology (an updated version of sociobiology). The argument is that if Darwinism is true in biology, then it must also explain every aspect of human behavior. Some even say we’re entering an age of “Universal Darwinism,” when it will be expanded into an overarching, all-encompassing worldview.

    If you don’t have at least one foot planted in the eternal, what have you left to do but tack with every fad and fashion?

    It’s not my contention that NRO has become squishy because they’re not “true believers.” It’s my contention that NRO (and people such as Goldberg) have become squishy because they’ve soaked up some of the main assumptions of the Left. I don’t expect those on the right to parse everything through theism (although as Prager shows, theism is central to the ethics and viewpoints of the right…or at least used to be). Clearly most at NRO are not operating on a conservative assumption, let alone a “Stand Athwart” assumption. This, I believe, is indicative of the moral and intellectual corruption brought by Progressivism/Leftist/materialism.

    The Left (and Darwinists) have done such a thorough job of besmirching conservatives, Christians, and traditional morality that people (including many conservatives) are running from it and trying to integrate various values of the Left (some of them calling themselves “libertarians”). I’ve seen this first hand. I’m still getting over the shock of talking to Michael Reagan and finding little more than an establishment Republican who was for open borders, was for “outreach” to various grievance groups such as homosexuals as a cure-all, loved Jeb Bush for president, and didn’t think much of Ted Cruz.

    Maybe it’s too much to ask these days for anyone to stand athwart. It might be a slightly embarrassing thing to go on Fox News (or elsewhere) and explain why the traditional family is so important to the quality of a nation, and thus to critique “gay” marriage and one-parent families. But if you call yourself a conservative and you say you believe in America, as founded, then one shouldn’t be on anyone’s payroll if you’re actively undermining the cause if only by (as the GOP does) delegitimizing opposition by joining the crowd.

    I jumped here to my (our) own site in large part because you could see the sand being washed out from the foundation of NRO. One was left with three choices: Ignore the problem of the Left and hope you die before things got really bad; Tack left with the rest of the conservative media and pretend you hadn’t, or, three, actually stand athwart.

    Again, we should praise the good work being done there my McCarthy, VDH, Williamson (mostly), and perhaps one or two others. But NRO as a conservative site no longer really exists.


      I’m afraid that’s absolutely true, Brad – NRO, whatever it is (and I’m not sure how I’d describe it any more) is no longer a Conservative site. I also agree with your contention that “NRO (and people such as Goldberg) have become squishy because they’ve soaked up some of the main assumptions of the Left.”

      In Goldberg’s case I have always thought his mistake was watching too much television, although I don’t mean to give ST readers the idea I’ve been peeking into his windows or attached a meter to his TV to monitor his viewing habits. But when you pick up the cultural assumptions of the Left, for example the idea that homosexuality is somehow both normal and desirable (despite the obvious fact that Darwinian Evolution, if true, must militate against it!), you will quickly find yourself saying things like “Same-sex marriage – it’s no big deal”. And if you start accepting the horrifying garbage that Hollywood puts on the boob tube (maybe Jonah should remember why it was called that – and in a much better age, too) you will sooner or later find you’ve been corrupted by the cultural Left. Of course I’m reasoning backward here from Goldberg’s evident corruption, and can’t know for certain that’s what happened, but it seems likely especially because Goldberg started to venture into more cultural areas and stumbled badly in doing so (for example his trumpeting of the morally and spiritually degrading series “Breaking Bad” as if it were “Hamlet”).

      Similarly, once you believe government should run a vast welfare state even though it means denying property rights, you have no claim to being a Conservative any more – the only thing you may still want to conserve is the status quo, and that makes you an Establishment-man, not a Conservative. And that’s basically where NRO is today – not standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” with righteous indignation, but standing on the sidelines of history begging “Could you please slow down a little?” in a timorous voice.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        But when you pick up the cultural assumptions of the Left, for example the idea that homosexuality is somehow both normal and desirable (despite the obvious fact that Darwinian Evolution, if true, must militate against it!), you will quickly find yourself saying things like “Same-sex marriage – it’s no big deal”. And if you start accepting the horrifying garbage that Hollywood puts on the boob tube (maybe Jonah should remember why it was called that – and in a much better age, too) you will sooner or later find you’ve been corrupted by the cultural Left.


        What you have just described is the position of the libertarian and country-club wings of the Republican Party. One is brain dead and the other is run by materialistic plutocrats who just want to get the social issues out of the conversation so they can continue to print money.

        Note today’s story about some 300 GOP stalwarts signing a letter to the Supreme Court in favor of deviant marriage.

        This rapid corruption of our country, and of the West in general is why I say culture is everything. It may be slightly overstating things, but given the present situation I believe a little hyperbole is absolutely necessary.

        This rot has been brought about by the deliberate work of Marxists, particularly those who spewed forth from the Frankfurt School. I suggest people inform themselves about this group.

        It is anti-West, anti-Christian in its goals.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The sad thing is that none of these “moderates” seem able to understand that once you accept the idea that there’s a right to engage in morally deviant behavior (rather than society choosing not to punish it if done in private), it ultimately leads to the current nightmare in which religious freedom increasingly is sacrificed to sexual license.


          Indeed, KFZ. The fact is the Left corrupts everything it touches, from the arts to religion, even though its ultimate goals are political in nature (the establishment of dictatorship).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        In Goldberg’s case I have always thought his mistake was watching too much television

        They say you are what you eat. I admit to watching various cable series (Wallander and such). I’m currently watching the “Vikings” now and probably will set this aside after two episodes. This is pretty brain-dead stuff. I was hoping for a real historical drama. Hey, why not mix history and entertainment from time to time? “Vikings” is from the same producer as “The Tudors” which was good enough in the first season (before all the good actors were killed off). And like “The Tudors,” “Vikings” has an extremely weak lead.

        I’m not a fuss budget when it comes to a little sex, vulgarity, and violence in movies (or books). But it depends upon the overall context of the story. The decidedly low-brow (from what I’ve seen so far) “Vikings” starts off with a gratuitous and completely unoriginal bit of sword fighting. It’s not even there to tell a story. It’s like throwing in a pin-up girl. And there’s something wrong with this kind of glorification of violence. At least make it serve some kind of historical context or be part of building an overall story rather than looking absolutely the same as every other sword-thrust battle in movies and TV. It was just blood for the sake of blood.

        A pop culture mind is not a good mind. It can’t be. It can only ever veer to the trivial. Whether Goldberg watches too much TV, I don’t know. But you are 100% right, Nik, when he trumpeted the, at best, pornographically violent “Breaking Bad” as if (as you say) it were Hamlet. There are a lot of conservatives out there who, as Goldberg did, indulge their guilty pleasures and then try to rationalize how “conservative” some show is. Baloney. There’s nothing conservative about “Breaking Bad,” although the early going was entertaining enough.

        Without one foot planted in the objective, it’s inevitable that a person will simply adapt to the culture, if only because he doesn’t want to get left behind. No man is an island. And yet, perhaps he should try to be a peninsula if the waters are full of ravenous (and dumb) sharks. Jonah is a creative and often funny commentator who has lost something. Y’all have permission to bitch-slap me if you ever see me drifting — unless (as surely I will) I give you honest and articulate reasons for doing so. But I won’t just wake up one day deciding to have a sex change and then rationalize it as saying something as stupid as “One of these things aren’t like the other” as Goldberg did to rationalize homosexual marriage because it wasn’t like abortion. I mean, Jesus H., who ever said it was?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, I’ve certainly seen a lot of movies that would probably be considered trashy by Michael Medved, and it hasn’t yet corrupted me. Of course, in my case the vice would be violence rather than sexual degeneracy (I tend to ignore anything clearly intended for some identity-group such as homosexuals, or for that matter blacks, Hispanics, women — unless it’s for heterosexual white males). And I definitely have some violent impulses (carefully controlled, at least so far) — but then, I was always hot-tempered. If anything, I’ve actually mellowed –a little — in my old age

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            and it hasn’t yet corrupted me

            A sure sign that one has been corrupted is when one apologies for one’s vices. I readily admit that much of the draw of “The Tudors” was that it was a tittyfest. It wasn’t just that. It had Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More, Nick Dunning as Thomas Boleyn, Maria Doyle Kennedy as the regal Queen Catherine of Aragon, and Sam Neill as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Some of the other bit players were good as well. The costumes and sets were generally quite stunning. You were immersed in the period. You can’t get that out of a book in the same way. A picture can be worth a thousand words and that sort of thing.

            So this was definitely an “adult” series. The sex and nudity were completely gratuitous but not unappreciated. But never would I rationalize this as a mere lesson in anatomy. It was what it was and I liked it, in part, for what it was. So sue me. But you’d never hear me say something as ridiculous as that “The Tudors” was an exposition in conservatism. If anything, Henry was an Obama-like radical who wished to “fundamentally change” England, at least her religious aspects.

            “Breaking Bad,” on the other hand, was also entertaining in the way that a bad accident along the side of the road tends to make traffic slow down. But to find a redeeming value in it? It’s just not there. To say that “Breaking Bad” is entertaining is one thing. To try to hide the fact that the bad elements are what made it entertaining is to engage in rationalization. Yes, I admit, it can be entertaining (even funny) when the Wile E. Coyote is handed an anvil which causes him to race toward the earth off the ledge at even greater speed (defying the laws of physics, but whoever said TV and movies were particularly anchored in reality?)

            It was entertaining watching Walter White indulge his criminal streak. But is this conservative? Oh goodness, Jonah showed an incredible lack of either honesty on the subject or self-awareness. This series was entertaining in the same way that “Goodfellas” was entertaining. It’s fun to (at least cinematically) take a walk on the wild side, to see the criminal element up close and personal.

            It’s debatable how much true corruption movies and TV are responsible for. But surely we understand that a different mind will be produced if that mind is fed on, say, Dickens rather than J.J. Abrams (who, for me, has become the poster boy of the artistically inane, although he is hardly alone).

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Note that I referred to “sexual degeneracy”. I do like, for example, some of the titillating slide shows on the Daily Caller, though lately I haven’t been looking at them because of frequent problems accessing the site, especially with Internet Explorer (may God damn everyone in Microsoft IT to Hell).

              George MacDonald Fraser in his excellent Hollywood History of the World looks at the way historical events and eras have been portrayed by Hollywood, and finds that they have often been very good at recreating the milieu (e.g., Captain Blood actually portraying the payment standards used by pirates of that era, and the sort of costuming you mentioned, which is why I was reminded of it). Sometimes the results can be interesting and a bit nuanced; The Charge of the Light Brigade has little to do with the actual event (and I’ve read several accounts), but he noted that the native revolt at the beginning is a superb plundering of the Massacre at Cawnpore in the Sepoy Mutiny.


    Thanks to Lawrence for wading through all this stuff for us. I’ve been better at ignoring NR lately (one of my resolutions is to spend much less time there) so while I had seen the new format I really hadn’t read too many articles lately, save one pure Establishmentarian piece by Mona Charen extolling the virtues of Los Bandidos Ochos leader Marco Rubio, who conspired with hard-Left Democrats to foist a blatant amnesty for illegal aliens upon us, and (who else?) Jeb Bush.

    I’d like to repeat here what I wrote in seconding Brad’s assessment of NRO:

    “…that’s basically where NRO is today – not standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” with righteous indignation, but standing on the sidelines of history begging “Could you please slow down a little?” in a timorous voice.”

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Los Bandidos Ochos

      I love it! Sounds like a Tejano band.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Hahahaha. “Timorous voice.” You got that right. And, really, we need to define what “standing athwart” means. It doesn’t mean shouting down the other side. It doesn’t mean a show of powerful intransigence. It means making a principled, practical, and moral argument against whatever vulgar practice the Left is advocating that day. Many at NRO just have a hard time dealing with first principles.

  6. Timothy Lane says:

    This seems a good place to mention an article by Ross Douthat from the New York Times (Douthat is the actual token conservative there). Discussing another article on the serious problems being created by modern technology and post-modern society (an isolated upper class combined with a lower class left with a modern version of “bread and circuses” or violent revolt as its alternative lifestyles). The writer thought “old ideas” such as religion wouldn’t work, just as they didn’t work for the similar disruptions of the Industrial Revolution.

    Douthat, disagreeing, points out that in reality religion played a major role in dealing with the problems of that era. This includes religion-based abolitionism, religion-based charity ameliorating poverty and its problems, and religion-based opposition to eugenics and the excesses of modernist political ideas (such as Communism and Nazism). Douthat thinks religion will play a similar role in the future (for example, the answer to ISIS and other forms of militant Islam will no doubt involve Muslims who reject the jihadist vision of Dar al-Harba vs. Dar-al-Islam). The link, for anyone who is interested, is:


      Thanks Tim – I took a look at the piece. I must say I was unimpressed – I don’t read Douthat any more, and while I won’t try to critique the guy here, his essay was basically a mess. Which “old ideas” are likely to lead to salvation? Why is it that technological advances seem to be causing more economic dislocations now than they did in the past? Douthat doesn’t really have any answers, he just suggests that somewhere among those dusty old notions could be something that will somehow mysteriously come to our rescue.

      (For anyone wondering about the second of these questions, I will suggest that the answer is we are in the later stages of a formerly free society before it collapses, and that now technological innovations, when they displace workers, are occurring for the first time in an essentially no-growth environment where, if you lose your job for some reason, you’re simply not going to get another one. Any other kind of increase in productivity, formerly the cause of a rise in real wages, now could end up reducing employment for the same reason – lack of economic expansion, which is characteristic not of a free society but a controlled one).

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