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Memoirs of a Pundit Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Thursday, 02 August 2012

For more than fifteen years, until last month, I was a political pundit writing thrice-weekly columns in an Ottawa newspaper that were – until I persistently opposed gay marriage in 2005 – fairly widely syndicated in Canada. I was a “token conservative,” but worse, a “social conservative,” a token within the token. Most media conservatives are “fiscal” conservatives. That is, they subscribe to secular liberal premises, but think taxes are too high and the government is moving too fast. Most of the rest are reasonably tame “rednecks for the proles.”

Other journalists shared many of my passing opinions, but managed to keep this mostly to themselves. The one who persistently did not – courageous Rory Leishman on the London, Ontario Free Press – did not last quite as long as I did. The frequency of his appearances in print was gradually reduced, until he was, to use the Argentinian verb, “disappeared” entirely.

I owed my very appearance to a happy succession of editors on the Ottawa Citizen, which began when Conrad Black acquired it and installed a remarkable libertarian, Neil Reynolds, as chief editor.

Ottawa is like Washington in some ways, and not in others. Within its “Greenbelt” (equivalent to “the Beltway”) it is a government town. But the Ottawa Valley backwater contains a good sampling of Canada’s most reactionary citizens: people who probably detest bureaucracy, academia, and media even more warmly than people do in Alberta (which is Canada’s oil-bedewed Texas).

As the complaints came in, the editors stood behind me; all I had to do was source all my facts. This kind of liberality is hard for people who are usually very “liberal” themselves. It’s not just the myriad formal complaints, designed to take up as much of the editors’ time as possible on formal complaint procedures. For these are men and women who attend urbane dinner parties, and as an editorial page editor once told me, the need to explain to his fellow illuminati “why Warren hasn’t been fired yet” had permanently marred his digestion.

I rarely entered Ottawa itself, and was reminded why whenever I did. Canadians are, by national stereotype, almost excessively polite, and yet I was many times verbally accosted. The question, “Are you David Warren?” – aggressively intoned by a total stranger – became my recurring dread. My practiced replies included, “It depends. Do you like David Warren?” Or if the eyes conveyed no possibility of humor: “I’m so tired of being confused with that fascist bastard!”

But of course, there were nice people, too, including nice leftists, who would banter gently and sometimes almost affectionately. Some of those people I may actually miss.

When I joined the paper in 1996, I was a high-church Anglican (and already a convert from my religion-free, “secular humanist” upbringing). Things got a little worse for me towards the end of 2003 when I publicly swam the Tiber. As one droll reader noted, “You hardly needed to add ‘Papist’ to your sheet of capital crimes.”


          Oh, Canada . . .

Now curiously, my more evangelically Protestant readers hardly batted an eye; and I was welcomed into the fold by Roman traditionalistas. The chief torments now came from progressive, self-styled “recovering Catholics,” vying with each other to disassociate themselves from Catholic teaching in any form. (My own term for them is “cradle cases.”)

The history of Catholicism in Canada, and particularly around Ottawa, is different from what happened in America. In the United States, except perhaps Boston, Catholics have always been relatively harmless outsiders. But in French-speaking Quebec the Church was all but established until the Quiet Revolution took it out, as an earthquake takes a dam. And in our national capital, populated originally by French and Irish, much of the archaeological evidence for the Age of Faith remains – the monastic establishments only recently converted into condominiums. The town is ex-Catholic with a vengeance.

But then, the pundit’s job is to stir things. I went out of my way to give my social conservatism, already so repugnant to the enlightened, a more Thomist and mediaeval spin. In boxing, this is called “leading with the chin.”

Now that I’m finally back out on the street, I wonder if the whole adventure was worth it. Did I accomplish anything over so many years of being a discordant voice for “Western Civ” amid chattering multiculturalism?

Certainly yes, when I think of many letters I received, from isolated people who told me that I had given them encouragement in bleak times; and others who said they had come to enjoy, like espresso coffee, something that challenged most of their default positions.

But if the standard were a statistical one – how many people did I convert? – it was a ridiculous waste of time. Again and again I found that I was working from premisses about human life and cosmos that could not be explained in short pundit spaces, against a semi-pornographic background of news and entertainment. My very consciousness of historical time made me an alien.

The hunger for a worldview deeper than fashionable posturing and consumerism was quite apparent, especially in younger readers, but not how to feed that hunger.

I don’t think the “mainstream media” consciously suppress Christian teaching, per se. I’ve come to think, in a McLuhanesque way, that they are structurally incapable of assimilating genuine diversity of opinion. And this not from malice (necessarily), but because, from different premises, they adopt different notions of fact and reality.

The media cannot present “alternative realities,” without looking foolish. They have to choose, and what more comfortable choice than the path of least resistance for their generation and class?

 
David Warren, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a former editor of the Idler magazine and, until recently, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East.

 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 02, 2012
Miss Anscombe, probably the most acute Catholic philosopher of the last century, identified the difficulty back in 1958
"In present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one; to give such an explanation belongs to ethics; but it cannot even be begun until we are equipped with a sound philosophy of psychology. For the proof that an unjust man is a bad man would require a positive account of justice as a “virtue.” This part of the subject-matter of ethics, is however, completely closed to us until we have an account of what type of characteristic a virtue is – a problem, not of ethics, but of conceptual analysis – and how it relates to the actions in which it is instanced: a matter which I think Aristotle did not succeed in really making clear. For this we certainly need an account at least of what a human action is at all, and how its description as “doing such-and-such” is affected by its motive and by the intention or intentions in it; and for this an account of such concepts is required."
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written by Manfred, August 02, 2012
Welcome to TCT, Mr. Warren. My wife and I are Canadaphiles, having vacationed there (both coasts) every year (including this one!) for the last fifteen years. Please don't be harsh on the seculars with whom you have had to deal. Pres. Obama has been invited and confirmed to speak at the AL SMITH Dinner for NY CATHOLIC CHARITIES in October this year. Who invited him? Why CARDINAL DOLAN. of course. Think of it, with all the ink that has been spilled re: Notre Dame in 2009, and the HHS Mandate effective YESTERDAY, the president of the USCCB has invited a pto-abortion, pro same-sex marriage, pro aberrosexual president to be the featured guest.
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written by Mack Hall, August 02, 2012
And I was depending on Ottawa to be a conscience for Washington.

Ouch.

Thanks for your excellent essay.
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written by Lauri Friesen, August 02, 2012
I am so happy to find you here on the Catholic Thing, David Warren. I've been a faithful reader of your columns since Conrad Black established the National Post (along with those of Mark Steyn). I was disappointed when I learned you would no longer appear in a Canadian paper, and have been Googling you daily to see where you might turn up. And I'm grateful to God that I no longer have to endure the smirking mugs of Dan Gardner and Susan Riley to get to your musings!
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written by Grump, August 02, 2012
As an ex-columnist myself who enjoyed stirring the pot, I would observe the more reader complaints the better. The last thing a good commentator wants is indifference from his audience. You don't mention how you lost your job -- were you fired or did you quit? -- but I would say that any publication worth its salt would be happy to employ you.

Welcome to TCT, where I have raised a few hackles myself for taking an unpopular stance with this audience now and then. For some reason, I am tolerated but there may come a time when I find myself persona non grata. Sooner or later, wherever you go, you wear out your welcome.

Here's wishing you every success, David.
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written by Janice Belbey, August 02, 2012
Welcome home, Mr. Warren. May you see this new adventure with TAC as Our Lord's gratitude for your fidelity to Truth! I, for one, am grateful for your presence on this blog. God bless!
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written by Jacob R, August 02, 2012
Well you're the only reason I ever knew about that paper and I'm part of a desired demographic (late 20s and employed with no debt).
They better break the most exciting story in the world or I'll never read that paper again but I'm sure there's enough eager leftists and your version of RINOs and libertarians up there to make up for the loss.

Anyway you should be a part of a Christian publication. Unfortunately all churches are currently cursed by a generation of members who believe it's better to let their churches die and try to be a hip Christian for the secular world than to build authentic, resilient Christian institutions.

What we need more than anything right now is a Christian Microsoft or Google or even more boring things like a Christian McDonalds.
That's why I'm going through the border fence every day this week from my apartment in the People's Republic of Berkeley and San Francisco, risking being sent to the gulag in Bakersfield, to eat Chick-fil-A!!
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written by Jeannine, August 02, 2012
Mr. Warren, count me as a devoted reader of your Ottawa Citizen columns! I am so happy that I will be able to read your work here. Yes, your commentary has often cheered and encouraged me.
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written by G.K. Thursday, August 02, 2012
Dear Mr Warren,

I regularly read your column at the Ottawa Citizen. You have been one of my favorite writers on the Internet for the past 4 or 5 years. I was very sad to read that you would no longer be writing a column for that paper. Alas, they don't know what they've lost. I will probably never go back to their website again.

Although I do not know your personal situation, I hope that you will continue to write and publish in the future. Your clear, witty approach to the silly madness of contemporary life is refreshing to read. There are many accomplished conservative columnists out there, but few have the Chesterton-like wit and charm in their prose that you have. You are clearly a cut above most of the writers on the Internet. At least that's MHO. I am glad that a quality Catholic website like "The Catholic Thing" has begun publishing your pieces. I know you will attract an avid readership here.

May God bless you!
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written by Gil Bailie, August 02, 2012
I miss your reflections, but I'm happy to know that they will occasionally appear on the CatholicThing. Your voice is needed.
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written by Peter Boston, August 02, 2012
Happy days! I found David Warren alive and well and writing about how darn hard it is see Reality.

Solzhenitsyn once said (something like) that, who knows, maybe the Big Lie will win out and carry the day - but not through me.

Perhaps that is enough. Maybe even all that any of us can do, and you do it very well Mr. Warren.
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written by Alan Momney, August 02, 2012
David, thanks for your witness to the truth over the years. Welcome to The Catholic Thing. I look forward to reading your columns.
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written by Ben Horvath, August 02, 2012
David - I have enjoyed your columns for years. In particular I have appreciated your writing on Pakistan and other places in the Muslim world, where you have drawn upon your personal experience in that region. Much of what I read about that area tends to be rather cartoonish. You write with compassion and humanity towards the people who happen to live in those places.
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written by G.K. Thursday, August 04, 2012
@Paterson-Seymour
Although you probably now this, "Miss" Anscombe was married to the renowned Roman Catholic philosopher, Peter Geach, with whom she had three sons and four daughters. She was one of the most gifted philosophers of the twentieth century, a determined defender of her Catholic faith—but not unmarried. She held a Research Fellowship, then a teaching Fellowship, at Somerville College, Oxford. She moved from Oxford to Cambridge in 1970 when she was awarded a Chair of Philosophy at Cambridge—the Chair formerly occupied by Ludwig Wittgenstein. She remained at Cambridge until her retirement in 1986.

Although she wrote and published under her maiden name throughout her very prolific career, she was not "Miss" in any way. I write this not so much to correct your post, but to let other readers know more about her. She should be better known by Roman Catholics!
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written by Brian Bauld, August 06, 2012
I once was lost but now I've found, you on The Catholic Thing. Your last column was full of that fearful symmetry thing - beautiful writing with a crushing message. I wonder if these columns, and others that may appear in the blogosphere, will surface on David Warren Online?
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written by Jacob, March 23, 2013
(Quite embarrassed about my earlier rambling comment, but still glad D.W. is here! Hope he stays for life!)

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