I can’t call Michael Schwartz a friend. I last saw him in 1995, when I took my son to Washington, D.C. While there, Justin and I paid a visit to Schwartz. I don’t recall what job he had at the time. His political activities weren’t what interested me, weren’t what I knew him for. My knowledge of him was from his association, twenty and more years prior, with Triumph.
That magazine was founded by L. Brent Bozell Jr. in 1966, and it folded at the beginning of 1976. Bozell had been active in conservative politics. His best book was The Warren Revolution, but his most influential book didn’t include his name on the cover. He ghost-wrote The Conscience of a Conservative in 1960 for future presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
Eventually Bozell, brother-in-law to William F. Buckley, Jr., decided that the answer to America’s troubles would not be found in standard conservative politics but in the Catholic faith. What was needed, he thought, was an overtly Catholic politics, and that politics could be fostered by a magazine that pushed Catholicism aggressively.
Bozell rounded up an impressive roster of contributors, including Warren Carroll (future founder of Christendom College), historian Christopher Dawson, Christopher Derrick, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Russell Kirk, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, historian John Lukacs, apologist Arnold Lunn, Thomas Molnar, and philosopher Frederick Wilhelmsen, who was second in importance at the magazine after Bozell.
There were lesser names who were part of the operation too, mostly behind the scenes. One was the late Charles Harvey, who, with Patrick Madrid, joined me in establishing Catholic Answers as a full-time apostolate 25 years ago. Another young helper, and an occasional writer for Triumph, was Michael Schwartz.
In a recently published book about the magazine, The Rise and Fall of Triumph, Mark D. Popowski notes that in some matters Schwartz “went further [than other staff members], arguing that democracy was possible only with Catholics. ‘Popular liberty can only be sustained . . . if the passions of the people are restrained internally by virtue and intelligence,’ which served as a moral check on democratic rule. This was possible only when the people—inherently fallible and thus inherently inclined to moral corruption—recognized an external and objective authority that bound their individual consciences and commanded virtue or adherence to standardized truths and values that restrained their passions. Catholics were such a people.”
Protestants were not, since they “emphasized the supremacy of the individual conscience,” explains Popowski. He says Schwartz believed that “Protestant popular liberty would devolve into disorder, which precipitated the emergence of a police state.” Whatever common efforts might be made with Protestants, in the long run the only solution was to have a country based on Catholic principles. Such were Schwartz’s thoughts in 1973, when he was 23: a precocious young man with big ideas.
I don’t remember how I came to meet Schwartz; perhaps it was in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after Triumph‘s demise and while I still practiced law. We didn’t know one another well, and then we fell out of contact, until my son and I paid that courtesy call on him when we visited the capital. That was the last time I saw Schwartz, who died two days ago at the age of 63 from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
For the last fifteen years Schwartz had been chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. He was well known in Washington for his pro-life activities, having worked with Operation Rescue and other pro-family groups. He displayed much charity toward the poor, particularly the homeless, and he had a friendly Irish pugnaciousness. (Yes, he was Irish; he had been adopted by a family surnamed Schwartz.)
In a tribute written when Schwartz stepped down from his post with Coburn’s office, his friend Martin Barillas wrote: “I found that despite the fervency of his belief in the sacredness of human life and the cause of traditional families, I never heard Mike disparage, ridicule, or calumniate his ideological and political adversaries. When speaking of them, Mike spoke with sadness that there are indeed people who do not recognize or refuse to acknowledge the humanity that links the smallest and defenseless unborn human beings to the infirm and the elderly among us.”
That is a fitting commendation of a man I admired but didn’t know remotely as well as I would have liked.