Guestblogger Ed Peters writes:
Lately it seems that ripping Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review has become many people’s favorite past time. Of course, Vree is no stranger to intellectual street-fighting, so knocking NOR is nothing new. But to this observer, the pile-on looks like it’s getting out of hand. For example, just recently, Pete Vere, an early-30s, fairly well-known, orthodox Catholic blogger from Canada, thrice taunted Dale Vree (who is twice Vere’s age) for virtually being at death’s door and therefore practically out of time to repent of his publishing sins lest he go to hell. (I am not making this up). That does it. Somebody, hold my glasses. I’m going in.
Dale Vree is not omniscient, his logical skills are not perfect, and sometimes he fails in patience and charity. In other words, he’s a lot like me. But also, I’m guessing, like Pete Vere. Furthermore, Vree’s New Oxford Review has all the strengths and all the weaknesses of an opinion journal dominated by one man’s opinions.
This means, when Dale Vree is right, he is very, very, Churchill-in-the-1930s-right; but when he is wrong, he is very, very, Chamberlain-back-from-Munich-wrong. While Dale Vree has often shown deep courage by standing up against powerful persons and forces for what is right, even when that stand costs him dearly—and some of Vree’s righteous fights have cost him dearly—at other times he seems unable to get off the merry-go-round of his own arguments long enough for the spinning to pass and his arguments to clear.
If I need to say it, I disagree with several positions Vree and the NOR have taken over the years. I have regretted seeing him go after some people I greatly respect and with whom I largely agree. But by the same token, some people I respect have gone after Dale Vree in unprofessional—and lately quite uncharitable—ways; that too causes grief. Was Rodney King all wet when he pleaded “Why can’t we all just get along?”
I’ve been reading NOR off and on for some 25 years—almost as long as Pete Vere has been alive—and there’s an old saying I just made up: “Blessed are the believing GenXers, for theirs is a world with abundant outlets for orthodox expression.” They can’t remember the bad ole days, when virtually every organ of religious and secular media was dominated by the monolithic chant of “Burn, baby, burn. The future belongs to therapy, not theology.” And, as if the flowering of alternative print and broadcast media were not enough, anybody with a keyboard and modem (technology that Vree has been slow to exploit, to his disadvantage in modern debate) can broadcast their opinions around the world in seconds. Fewer people remember when, for his articulate defense of Catholic principles, Dale Vree was perhaps the loneliest man in Catholic publishing. But I remember those days, and say that if, in the twilight of his career, Dale Vree is making some unnecessary enemies, that is a genuine matter for concern and individual confrontation by his peers, not for disrespectful rebukes from youth.
Has Vree brought some of this on by going after the wrong people, or at any rate going after the right people in the wrong way? Maybe so. But at the same time, the information age never forgets one’s earlier error: if, for example, Vree erred in publishing a critique of so-and-so’s writings, few bothered to read fairly Vree’s second, much more sophisticated, critique of the same person’s work, and instead immediately, and loudly, excoriated Vree for publishing “more of the same.”
Midway though the mediocre movie, Separate Tables (1958), there is a gem of a line: “The trouble about being on the side of right is that often one finds oneself in the company of such very questionable allies.” In a huge world made suddenly very small, I think of that line often. We who participate in public debates often find ourselves being joined by questionable allies; for that matter, we cause others to worry about being associated with us. That analysis applies to Dale Vree and NOR as much as it applies to any of us. But in the meantime, the tone of the NOR debate needs to change.
Consider: even if every criticism made against Dale Vree’s person and publication were sound—there are obviously questions about that—would that legitimate responding to him in kind and implying judgments about the state of his soul that even the holiest pope in history would not presume to make?