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?