April 07, 2007

The Quality of Andrew Sullivan

Scott Horton has published a review of Andrew Sullivan's Conservative Soul- a book I reviewed myself here. There is much of interest about Sullivan's book and I agree with Horton that it is far above the efforts of Michael Moore or Anne Coulter. Sullivan is a serious figure and deserves serious analysis.

Sullivan's book though has more in common both with his blog and with an op-ed writer than Horton wants to admit. The first part of the book constitutes a savage attack on what Sullivan calls fundamentalism but seems to have a myriad of different qualities and which he never properly defines. The second part of the book which is much less focused on the 'theo-cons' and much more on Sullivan's own political ideas and his view of his faith, rises to become both beautiful and profound. One wonders though whether it doesn't need fleshing out, whether the serious later part of the book needs strengthening, assertions need support and ideas need more coherence.

There is a lot in this book. Sullivan obviously can write a good book- but the Conservative Soul is far too unwieldy an effort. He tries to both defend philosophically a doctrine that he calls conservatism and write an analytical history of the conservatism of the 1990s and its relation to fundamentalism. One task is enough though and by attempting both, his doctrine is too undeveloped though at moments beautifully described, his analysis needs refinement. Mr Horton is right, Sullivan's book is possibly amongst the most impressive books published recently on Conservatism- but it is incredibly sad that this imperfect book represents in our political culture the height of political thinking. Mr Sullivan has a good book in him- this one isn't it- that Horton thinks it is demonstrates to me the poverty of the aspiration of much of our present writing in any medium about politics.