Just Right: A Life In Pursuit Of Liberty, by Lee Edwards
I don’t happen to know a lot about Lee Edwards, at least, I did not before reading this autobiography. And in reading this book I was reminded of why I am ambivalent at best about autobiographies and why I greatly prefer a skillfully written memoir to even the best autobiography. The essential genre problem of the autobiography as opposed to the memoir is that the memoir places the author’s story of their own life in a larger context that draws interest even if the author is not someone the reader would be predisposed to like or to care about, while an autobiography makes the author the center of the story, and that sort of self-absorption seldom if ever leads to literary excellence. This book may seek to be viewed as a memoir of the Conservative movement as a whole in the period from the early 1960’s to today, but ultimately this is a tale about Lee Edwards’ place within the Conservative movement and that is a far less interesting and noteworthy contribution to writing. On the plus side, the book does convey a sense of honesty and even occasional regrets about how the author acted in certain occasions as an activist and writer, and that sense of self-reflection puts this on the higher end of autobiographies in terms of its overall value.
This book is an autobiography of about 350 pages that I admittedly found a bit tough to read because the author was so narrowly focused on providing an insider’s look to things that I must admit I am not an insider in. We see the author’s family background and college education and work in the Young Americans For Freedom, there is a lot that the author has to say about Goldwater’s doomed 1964 campaign where the author served as an important figure, and the author talks about his lobbing and advising work for various candidates and causes. One gets to see how it is that a writer pays the bills as a conservative activist working for various journalistic sources on the right and seeks insider access with successful Republican candidates for the presidency and deals with the infighting among various wings of the Republican party, to say nothing of bi-partisan efforts. The author has a lot to say about his anti-Communism and his intense hostility for the “four bigs” of “big government,” “big business,” “big media,” and “big labor,” all four bigs I like to see taken down a few notches. And one also gets to see the author’s involvement in the various institutions of the right that make it possible for people like the author to develop reputations as solid historians and philosophers in the absence of a university base to depend on. And that part may be the most interesting aspect of this book, its insider look into conservative activism.
How the reader views this book is entirely dependent on how the author thinks about the conservative movement and to a certain extent Roman Catholicism and to a great extent the anti-Communist movement. As someone who is tolerant of Catholicism and generally hostile to Communism or leftism, I am a sympathetic audience to this book even if it is about someone who I know little about and whose books have not been a part of my own reading thus far. Most readers of this book will hopefully be a bit more familiar with the author’s work than I am and therefore able to be even more effective cheerleaders than I can of someone who existed just outside of my radar when it comes to the works of conservative thinkers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Kirk I know, Buckley I know, but Edwards I have not known before, even if he appears to be someone worth knowing. This book is full of insider information about how it is that conservative activism has operated and the personality conflicts and drama of right-wing activists seeking to encourage certain political positions on a shoe-string budget. The results are sometimes entertaining, but always educational.