As his title suggests (“An appreciation ….” TAS, July 4), Daniel J. Flynn’s review of Dan Kelly’s book Living on Fire: The Life of L. Brent Bozell Jr. is meant as a salute and I’m grateful for that sentiment. But it’s also flawed. I suppose that reaction’s a normal one for the progeny of the person discussed, but in this case it’s serious enough to beg a response. I pre-emptively plead guilty to the charge of bias while underscoring that I also speak with authority.
Just one paragraph in this review is devoted to my father’s contributions to the modern conservative movement (which, he might joke were he still with us, is one paragraph too many). Less than two deal with his final years in service to the poor. Everything else in Mr. Flynn’s piece focuses on my father’s eccentricities, some which were nothing of the sort, and manic depression, which was very real. It is essential that both topics be discussed, but not this way.
Mr. Flynn repeatedly ascribes eccentricity or extremism to my father’s positions. Some were, as measured by the political pendulum of the day. They clearly contributed to the political rift with Bill Buckley and the National Review, and later to the ultimate demise of his Catholic enterprises. But Flynn over-reaches to make that point. He writes that “Bozell [was] generally prone to extremism of some sort—pushing ‘world federalism’ as a Yale undergraduate, advocating preventative war with the Soviet Union at National Review…” These were not extremist positions at the time. World federalism was entrenched in the liberal vernacular in the late ’40s just as in the ’50s and ’60s a confrontation with the Soviet Union, militarily or implicitly militarily, was supported by most on the right, including Ronald Reagan and the editors of National Review. Interestingly, the reverse is also true. Some of his positions were seen as extremist at the time but history has proven otherwise. In the ’60s there were those who found eccentricity in his warnings of a coming spiritual collapse with the embrace of abortion, gay rights, euthanasia, and the like, none of which they believed could or would ever be found acceptable to the West. In each case the eccentric had it right.
Flynn then moves from intellectual eccentricity to mental illness, just as the author (rightfully) did. Indeed, my father insisted it be placed into the public record and did so himself, unequivocally, in his autobiographical work Mustard Seeds. But when Mr. Flynn devotes more than half the space in his review to juicy, tawdry anecdotes resulting from manic depression — note the silly photograph selected to accompany this review: a picture of the earthquake in Guatemala, where one meaningless episode took place, as if this is some dramatic metaphor — it slips into needless sensationalism.
To what end? Mr. Flynn begins his review by equating the trajectory of my father’s life to that of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. “The uncanny similarities,” he writes, “include massive contributions to their fields, debilitating madness, and storybook-ending redemption.” There’s the rub. Flynn reviews this book as one would a movie, too focused on the pathos of manic depression to fully understand the big picture.
My father’s life was never about public redemption. To be redeemed is to have successfully atoned for wrongdoing, or at the very least, failure. There was no wrongdoing and no failure. His life was a glorious, exciting, stormy, triumphant voyage. It began as a cause on the public stage rousingly leading a political revolution. It ended in silence, adoring God. The contemporary world won’t find pathos in the ending, which explains why it merited only a few sentences, tender though they were. This is sad. As anyone who knew my father would attest, the trajectory was interesting (to put it mildly) but the real pathos was found in that final chapter, when the dashing warrior chose to become a simple servant. That wasn’t the conclusion, it was his legacy.