In 1960, many would have been stunned to learn that Barry Goldwater did not write his bestseller, The Conscience of a Conservative. It was ghostwritten by his speechwriter, L. Brent Bozell Jr. According to Living on Fire author Daniel Kelly, Goldwater had little involvement in the writing process and the book reflects the views of Bozell.
Living on Fire is full of revelations about the early years of the conservative reawakening that inspired many, including Ronald Reagan. The word "fire" in the title may refer to Brent Bozell's bright red hair, as well as his somewhat radical opinions. He fired up a room, first as a Yale debater and later as a political speaker. He also set on fire (with his prose) the pages of National Review and later his own Catholic journal, Triumph.
Catholicism was the most influential aspect of Bozell's life; everything was overshadowed by his faith. He believed Catholicism could save America from the social and moral decline he saw happening in the 60s and 70s. He predicted that birth control would lead to the destruction of sex within marriage and its purpose of procreation; he decried abortion as murder. Changes within the church were disturbing to Bozell, who saw the switch from Latin to English Mass as diminishing the dignity and glory of the liturgy.
Competition with his brother-in-law, William F. Buckley Jr., may have had contributed to Bozell's need to get out from under the National Review founder's shadow. But the eventual rift seems to stem more from divergent opinions on critical issues such as abortion. While some seemed somewhat accepting of abortion, Bozell was adamant that "life issues," birth control, abortion, sex education, and euthanasia, were "part of a secular policy to lay waste to the entire Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life."
This biography is fascinating in that it presents the complexity that is a human being; Bozell was principled but his principles changed over his lifetime; he was uncommonly rational except when he wasn't (he suffered from bipolar disorder); and he was valuable to the development of Conservatism in the nation, yet is largely forgotten. Readers of this biography won't soon forget L. Brent Bozell Jr.
His ten children and over 40 grandchildren carry on his Conservative and Catholic legacy; one son, his namesake, is a prominent Conservative and another is a Benedictine monk.
(Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014, 272 pp., $27.95)