How I Met Andrew Sullivan

Matthew Sitman —  Feb 6 2015 @ 10:00am
by Matthew Sitman

One of the first questions I get when a person finds out I work at the Dish, and that Andrew is not just my boss but my friend, is about how we met.

Unlike most of my generation, and probably most readers of this blog, I first encountered Andrew’s writing in his books. I read Virtually Normal with the thrill of genuine intellectual discovery when, as a young doctoral student at Georgetown University, I pulled it off the shelf during an afternoon haphazardly exploring the stacks. I turned to Love Undetectable and The Conservative Soul in quick succession, with the former, in my estimation, being Andrew’s best and most beautiful book. But perhaps most importantly, in early 2008, Andrew’s dissertation on Michael Oakeshott finally was published. During my graduate studies, Oakeshott had become an intellectual hero of mine, a thinker whose writing genuinely changed my life. So I scraped together the money to buy Intimations Pursued, read it slowly and deeply, and then sent Andrew an email asking if we could get coffee to discuss it.

I was a nobody – a poor graduate student in a city in which proximity to power or money is what gets people’s attention. I had nothing to offer Andrew in that regard. What I now realize, however, is that that was a good thing.

I wasn’t asking for anything other than an earnest conversation about a somewhat obscure English philosopher. I wasn’t seeking an internship, I wasn’t trying to secure a “connection,” I didn’t want Andrew to introduce me to anyone. I certainly never believed I’d work at the Dish. Andrew was just a writer who fascinated me, not a celebrity blogger. I wanted to ask him questions. That was all. And that’s why, I now feel certain, he wrote back to me suggesting we skip the coffee and just get dinner at the Duplex Diner.

That evening we shared what would be the first of many long meals together, with me awkwardly asking questions about his dissertation and trying not to seem as nervous as I really was. (Confession: I downed a beer on my way to dinner to help me relax.) I met Aaron that first night, too, and we all ended up going to listen to jazz at Blues Alley. We promised to do it again soon, and in short order we became friends – a title that he and I both revere.

Working together these last two years necessarily impinged on our friendship, with discussions of “business” always threatening to intervene. So while I will miss Andrew’s blogging, and now find myself considering what comes next in my own career, I am relieved that Andrew and I simply can be friends again. Because, after all, true friendship is entirely non-instrumental, and fits uneasily amidst the demands for productivity and performance. As Oakeshott puts it in “On Being Conservative” (pdf):

Friends are not concerned with what might be made of one another, but only with the enjoyment of one another; and the condition of this enjoyment is a ready acceptance of what is and the absence of any desire to change or to improve. A friend is not somebody one trusts to behave in a certain manner, who supplies certain wants, who has certain useful abilities, who possesses certain merely agreeable qualities, or who holds certain acceptable opinions…The relationship of friend to friend is dramatic, not utilitarian; the tie is one of familiarity, not usefulness; the disposition engaged is conservative, not ‘progressive.’

Andrew, to borrow Oakeshott’s phrasing, certainly does not always have acceptable opinions, nor is he always agreeable. Far from it, as readers of this blog certainly know. But Andrew, more than anyone else, has taught me that any genuine form of love, especially friendship, does not seek to change or improve the other person. Friendship is marked most of all by simple delight, by finding the world a slightly less lonely place because of another person’s proximity. It exists for no purpose beyond itself; it is “useless” in the very best sense of what that might mean. And so, it turns out, entering into an abiding friendship actually is the beginning of a more general wisdom: that striving must give way to acceptance, that present laughter should be valued over future reward, that life is not a series of “problems” to be “solved” but a mystery to enjoyed. I’m not sure I’d really understand these things, to the extent I do or in the same way, if Andrew hadn’t decided to answer my email that day.

I can’t help but feel joy that my friend is leaving blogging behind. His deepest interests are not political, as my own story of meeting and getting to know Andrew should indicate. The daily jousting on the web, however brilliantly he executed it, does not reveal the core of the Andrew I know. Instead, if asked to describe the man, what comes to mind is the time we talked about God hour after hour one sunny Spring day, or the eagerness with which he showed me Provincetown my first visit there. I look forward to the day, soon arriving, when reciting our favorite Philip Larkin poems supplants discussion of web traffic, and when, after going to Mass together, we can converse about Jesus without worrying over Monday morning’s blogging.

Quote For The Day

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2015 @ 9:32am


By Maurice Sendak:

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

And Max said, “No!”

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”

A Poem For Andrew

Alice Quinn —  Feb 6 2015 @ 9:00am
by Alice Quinn

For Andrew, essential defender of parity in the sphere of love:

That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.

–Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The War

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2015 @ 8:00am

That’s what changed me – and this blog. That’s what changed America. And that’s why Obama is president.

When I look back on the stumbling, reversed, jagged path I found myself taking with you over the past decade, it is the war that looms largest. It showed me the callowness of neoconservative certainty – a certainty I drank as solace in the lost shadow of the two towers, the falling of which propelled this blog into a very public space. It showed me the wisdom of a deeper conservatism that should have recognized the utopianism of the Iraq folly from the get-go. It showed me the depth of human evil in the dark recesses of al Qaeda and Zarqawi and now ISIS. And it showed me that merely dramatically opposing this evil is not enough to stop it – and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.

It robbed me of illusions – the first being that the United States never tortures prisoners.

It denied me any intellectual safe haven, as my delusions fell from my eyes in slow motion.

It revealed an ugly side to me, in the aftermath of 9/11, that I now see with revulsion and embarrassment.

It shook me out of moral complacency and shallow absolutes.

Maybe every generation has to learn some of these lessons anew – and I should hasten to add that the war has not left me a pacifist. I still believe in the necessity of military force in confronting evil in the world that threatens us. I am merely far, far more convinced than I used to be about war’s capacity to make things worse, its propensity to upend the precious legacy of security and gradual change from which all true progress is made. Tens of thousands of human beings died in Iraq because many of us forgot that. Many more still will be. You can treat that as an abstraction – but the new media made so much of it so much more immediate, and revealed such vistas of pain and grief and brutality that abstractions were overwhelmed with reality.

And yet we move on. Accounts of the war that obscure that complex reality are emerging again. And we will be tempted to walk briskly by what the war did to the meaning of America, in its relations with the world. Which is why, in this last week of Dishing, I was glad to see an early cut of Michael Ware’s new documentary about the war as he experienced it – on both sides, in real darkness, without any attempt at protecting us from what Michael did not protect himself from. It’s called “Only The Dead.” Look out for it.

It’s only by confronting this past fully, by not flinching from it, or air-brushing it that we will emerge again into what Churchill called broad sunlit uplands. The light is still crepuscular. I just want to believe it is the light of dawn and not of dusk, and that this global struggle can lead somehow to something better, truer and more humane.

(Photo: Seen through splintered bullet-proof glass, US soldiers from 2-12 Infantry Battalion examine their damaged Humvee after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated on the vehicle, following a patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad 19 March 2007. On the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq US soldiers still faced daily attacks on the streets of the war-torn capital. By David Furst/AFP/Getty Images.)

The View From My Window

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2015 @ 7:32am


Washington, DC, 5.25 pm

Quote For The Day II

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 5 2015 @ 8:30pm

“The world cannot be a problem to anyone who sees that ultimately Christ, the world, his brother and his own inmost ground are made one and the same in grace and redemptive love. If all the current talk about the world helps people to discover this, then it is fine. But if it produces nothing but a whole new divisive gamut of obligatory positions and ‘contemporary answers’ we might as well forget it. The world itself is no problem, but we are a problem to ourselves because we are alienated from ourselves, and this alienation is due precisely to an inveterate habit of division by which we break reality into pieces and then wonder why, after we have manipulated the pieces until they fall apart, we find ourselves out of touch with life, with reality, with the world and most of all with ourselves,” – Thomas Merton, “Is the World a Problem?” (1966)

Check out last Sunday’s celebration of Merton’s 100th birthday here.

Know Scope

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 5 2015 @ 8:00pm


Marcelo Gleiser reminds us that, even though science has not yet detected gravitational waves from the Big Bang, “we should take note of what we do know about the early universe, which is nothing short of spectacular”:

We know that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old (a number that, updated from 13.7, has given us pause about the name of this very blog). We know its composition, or at least the relative contribution of the ingredients — if not the ingredients themselves (dark matter and dark energy remain a mystery). We have a firm grasp of the cosmic history from 400,000 years after the Big Bang to now — and we can even push it earlier, to a minute or so after the event, when the first atomic nuclei were synthesized. We also understand how galaxies form and how they are distributed across space, even if we still don’t know where the seeds that leapfrogged their emergence came from. …

We share with our ancestors the urge to understand our origins, to unveil the mystery of creation. The fact that science opens a window for us to peer into our deep past should be a cause for celebration, irrespective of what we find when we are finally able to look.

(Image from Hubble Space Telescope via NASA/ESA/UCSC/Leiden Univ.)