Joseph Sobran, 1946—2010

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With sadness, I report the death of an old and cherished friend, Joe Sobran. Joe wrote and edited for National Review until he and William F. Buckley, Jr., had a falling out; he had a long-running engagement with CBS Radio as a commentator; and he wrote a syndicated newspaper column.

For most of his life, Joe was one of those rare conservatives who actually had and lived by sincere conservative values, rather than merely mouthing the usual banal conservative views and readily throwing principles overboard whenever an opportunity to influence or wield state power presented itself. Late in life, he embraced philosophical anarchism, having given up all hope that the state would ever do anything decent.

I met Joe about twenty years ago, and I was privileged to spend considerable time with him over the years. A gentle, learned, witty, and courageous man, Joe was one of the most beautiful writers I have encountered among commentators on public affairs. I keep a collection of quotations that express important ideas in an especially pithy, penetrating, arresting, or graceful way. Joe’s declarations are well represented in my collection. In virtually every column of his that I read, at least once I would stop, reread a sentence or a paragraph, and mutter to myself, “How I would love to be able to write such prose!”

When a man dies, it is common for friends and admirers to say that the he will be missed, but in truth, except by a handful of close friends and relatives, he really will not be missed. In Joe’s case, however, I believe that many people really will miss him. I certainly will. He wrote in a unique voice, in sentences crafted with simplicity, grace, and precision, expressing ideas that all of us might profitably ponder.

Joe was a devout Catholic. Let us hope that in this regard, too, he charted a course to a safe harbor, and that he now resides in a better place.

Reprinted from the Independent Institute blog The Beacon.

Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. He is also a columnist for His most recent book is Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. He is also the author of Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.

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