"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

08 May 2005

NRO Atlanta

(I had the privilege last week of attending a seminar/dinner with several of the editors and writers of National Review, the journal of conservatism founded by William F. Buckley some 50 years ago. The following is from my journal of the evening.)

During the panel discussion and Q & A time, I am certainly impressed by the NRO editors and writers – they are articulate, funny, knowledgeable, at ease with themselves and each other, confident in their opinions yet arguing differences with respect. Jay Nordlinger – the most gracious human being on the planet – moderates; Andrew Stuttaford holds forth on movies, Kate O’Beirne gives us an inside look at CNN; between sessions, Kathryn Lopez seems to be in constant motion, yet stops to give her full attention when I approach and accepts a compliment with delighted sincerity, while John Derbyshire admits his perfectionism about writing and laments the demise of decent copyediting.

At dinner, several of us are carrying on a conversation with Ramesh Ponnuru. He is seated about midway down the side of a longish table; we are across from him and/or to his right. As our plates are removed, a young lady quietly excuses herself to move to the opposite end of the table, where a crowd is beginning to gather. Ramesh glances that way and rolls his eyes, feigning aggravation. “Why does Jonah have to come to my table? No one will want to talk to me now.”

Warren Bell arrives and sits next to Ramesh, and the conversation turns to Hollywood, feminism, and his journey to conservative thinking. Ramesh joins for a while, but soon turns to the conversation going on to his left, where Jonah Goldberg is indeed attracting a growing crowd.

I have been up since 5:00 a.m., given a final exam, and driven 3 hours to be here. 5:00 a.m. is now some 15 hours gone. As tends to happen when I am fatigued, I find myself checking out from direct involvement and becoming an observer.

The small group around Warren is quietly serious now, talking education. Laughter punctuates the conversation at Rich Lowry’s table behind me, where Rich leans back, suit jacket gone but tie still professionally in place, holding forth earnestly on something or other. I hear Ramesh say something about Kansas – my home state, as his – and turn my attention to that end of our table.

Immaculate in a perfectly tailored dark suit and tie, Ramesh is leaning forward, gesturing eloquently to his rapid and impassioned words as he dissects the insulting book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Jonah is leaning back, eyes half-closed, nodding and listening. His sport shirt, open at the neck and tieless, the casual blazer and worn blue jeans, and his unruly mop of hair offer a contrast with Ramesh, as does his style of speech – slower, pausing to choose his words, fewer gestures and more deliberate body language.

But the passion is there, in his eyes and in his tone, and it is the same passion I have noted in all these folk today, and I am struck with hope.

Immersed in the writing of college freshman for nine months, it is easy to lose perspective, to begin wondering if anyone will in the future be able to defend truth, to articulate sanity and moral principles. But I thought the same thing a decade and two decades ago, when many of these writers were college age, and here they are – accepting the mantle of William F. Buckley and carrying on his vision in a worthy manner.

I find it amazing that these highly intelligent people, especially those younger ones whose generation abounds with cynicism and materialism, have chosen to use their considerable gifts with language to challenge the rapid downward spiral of our culture and society. They are not content to use their gifts and energy for personal gain, as they so easily could. They refuse to succumb to cynicism or elitism. Rather, they hold ideals and values which they have decided are worth sacrificing to live by. The sacrifices they make are real – but the vision is clear. We owe them more than we know.

May their wisdom continue to increase and their influence to expand. My heartfelt thanks to them all.


amelia ruth said...

How could you do it to me? Four posts in four days--and I haven't been online to check any one of those four days. So I have some catching up to do.

Hope you are able to relish these weeks of freedom from papers!

Sean said...

One more Kansan at that table and we could have started a pitch match!

Of course you Eastern Kansas all play that funky 10 point version.

Maclin Horton said...

Ramesh Ponnuru--from Kansas. Is this a great country or what?!?