I was up at Boston College yesterday for an “author meets critics” session on Damon Linker’s provocative new book, The Religious Test, hosted by the Boisi Center. The other critic was Patrick Deneen of Georgetown, and the pregame chatter was about Jody Bottum’s summary dismissal as editor of First Things, for reasons that allegedly had to do with lavish spending. Linker left as editor four years ago after discovering a dark side to founder Richard John Neuhaus, since whose death in early 2009 the magazine has struggled to find a new footing.
The departure of Fr. Neuhaus from the scene may turn out to have signaled the eclipse of the conservative American Catholic intellectuals of the John Paul II era. Take George Weigel…please. If JPII’s American Boswell is (as reported) persona non grata in the Vatican, it’s at least in part because the curiales are busy throwing the former pontiff under the bus.
So who are Rome’s current intellectual faves? The consensus in Chestnut Hill was that there aren’t any. Maybe that’s because there are now cardinals and archbishops to do what the scribblers used to. I mean, who needs a Neuhaus and a Weigel when you’ve got a Burke and a Chaput?