“Order, Chaos, Peace”: I review a biography of an architect of conservatism

for The American Conservative:

Back when I was involved in the late-’90s conservative student movement at Yale, I noticed something. The libertarians, whose philosophy celebrated individual choice and experimental living, were normal and in control of their lives. The traditionalists were disorderly drunks who got kicked out of things. Libertarian pastimes included knitting and swing dancing; trads held contests to see which of them could punch his own face the hardest. (Always bet on the Teamster in this contest.)

As you start to realize that you’re one of these trads—a Gilbert Pinfold, an Isabel from When Sisterhood Was in Flower—you stop asking why a chaotic person would be so drawn to ideals of order. Instead you ask how to uphold order without self-righteousness and cruelty toward those who, like you, consistently fail. How to go from lip service to servanthood?

I picked up Daniel Kelly’s 2014 biography Living on Fire: The Life of L. Brent Bozell Jr. because I thought it might illuminate this problem of the chaotic conservative. I had no idea how moving and at last transcendent its story would be.


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