Jay Nordlinger for National Review
On Friday, I recorded a Q&A podcast with George Weigel: here. Weigel is one of the leading political writers — and social critics, etc. — in America. His biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, is one of the outstanding biographies of recent times. In this podcast, I speak with Weigel about some key issues.
We begin, however, with his upbringing (which is pretty key). Weigel is from an old Baltimore family. How old? In American terms, very old. His maternal side settled there in the 1830s. As for the other side: “My great-grandfather and his widowed mother arrived in Baltimore Harbor in 1861, which was not exactly optimal timing.”
In the baseball season just ended, the Orioles were very good — going 101–61 and winning their division. “I had more fun this year than I’ve had in a very long time,” says Weigel. “I’ve been an Orioles fan since 1958.” He tells an Earl Weaver story or two — good stuff.
Getting into some politics, and philosophy, Weigel mentions some of his old compadres: Michael Novak, Peter Berger, et al. This reminded me of how glorious those neoconservatives were. And of how much William F. Buckley Jr. valued them. I was just writing of this the other day (here).
Of Jeane Kirkpatrick, WFB said, “She ought to be woven into the flag as the 51st star.” In my presence, he greeted Charles Krauthammer as “my leader.” He valued Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, James Q. Wilson, Charles Murray, and on and on.
Lately, the president of the Heritage Foundation has been denigrating these people. But of course, so has virtually everyone else on the right. I heard a U.S. senator say something obnoxious the other night.
George Weigel has interesting and frank things to say on the subject, including the following: “This is a bunch of ignorant people who don’t know the history of the conservative movement.” Weigel and many another were part of “a genuine community engaged in serious intellectual conversation, not dominated by tweets, snark,” and the like. “There was serious business to be done: reforming the country, winning the Cold War, revitalizing constitutional jurisprudence . . .”
Earlier this year, Weigel published an excellent and comprehensive article titled “What Ukraine Means.” In our podcast, I remark to him that it’s amazing the Ukrainians are still standing, after all this time: Putin launched his all-out assault against them in February 2022. The Ukrainians are still on their feet, though they have suffered terrible losses and terrible atrocities.
Last month in Rome, I spent some time with the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, whom I’ve known since 2011. He called me the day after the invasion from a bomb shelter under his cathedral to tell me that he had just discovered that members of the cathedral choir were in fact FSB agents who had been planted in Kyiv in order to murder him once the Russian troops arrived. Last month, he told me that the Russians were stopped 20 kilometers from his house, and he said, “The fact that I’m alive is a miracle.”
Putin has his fans in the United States, certainly. Weigel says, “The notion that Putin is a defender of Christian civilization is so prima facie absurd that I don’t know how anyone with two grains of sense could possibly believe it. But many people do.” They do indeed. I think that, in many cases, it’s because of the media they consume. “That’s true,” says Weigel. But also, “they’ve been, frankly, victims of Russian disinformation.”
Yes — and this disinformation creeps into our media. (I addressed this general subject in a piece last January, here.)
More from George Weigel on Ukraine:
I have taught many Ukrainian students over the past 30 years in the program I run in Krakow every summer, and I feel a personal moral obligation to them. I have challenged them to live lives of moral purpose. And now, watching them put their lives on the line . . .
As “a matter of foreign-policy analysis,” says Weigel,
if Putin is allowed to unravel the victory of the West in the Cold War, it will be a disaster both in Eastern Europe and Central Europe, because the Baltic states and perhaps even Poland are next on the menu for Mr. Putin, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Xi Jinping is watching all of this very carefully.
A bit more:
So there are very specific national-security interests involved in this, but there is also, I think, a moral obligation to support people whom we have encouraged to take what John Paul II called at the United Nations in 1995 “the risk of freedom” . . .
Weigel and I proceed to talk about Israel, and the slaughter of Israelis committed by Hamas, and the war in which Israel is now entangled — another one. In recent days, I have thought of a phrase: “kill or be killed.” It is a stark phrase, with Darwinian undertones. In any case, it has occurred to me.
Among the things that Weigel says is this: “There is really only one way to deal with genocidal maniacs, and that is to make sure that they cannot commit genocide.”
I should stop quoting and simply link to our podcast again: here. It’s a pleasure and an education to listen to George Weigel. I recommend him, for people of various political stripes and various temperaments.