William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley

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The Young conservatives tried to talk like him (William F. Buckley), dress like him, write like him - and, of course, think like him... God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom, was published after Buckley completed a short stint with the CIA in Mexico. Yale's attempt to suppress publication only whetted the public's curiosity; Yale's attempts to discredit it (alum McGeorge Bundy's Atlantic Monthly review called Buckley a "twisted and ignorant young man"; Yale distributed two thousand reprints) made it a bestseller. His next book, coauthored with Bozell, was an unabashed attempt to defend a family friend: Joe McCarthy. By evaluating the senator's early cases in narrowly legalistic terms, they managed to acquit McCarthy to their own satisfaction as someone around which "men of good will and stern morality may close ranks." But what was most remarkable about McCarthy and Its Enemies, what makes it in retrospect a signal document of a new conservatism struggling to be born, was the number of critical references to McCarthy it included. Just as for Goldwater, the hunt for subversives appeared inadequate to the greater task at hand. "We are interested in talking, not about 'who is loyal?,' " Buckley and Bozell emphasized, "but about who favors those politicians that are not in the national interest as we see it.' "

Buckley's next project would make criticizing those politicians into a merry art-a mighty engine for massing right-wing fellow travelers into a community, a force, a band of brothers and sisters ready to take on the (liberal) world. Buckley founded National Review after a spell of barnstorming colleges on behalf of a new conservative organization, the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists.

I did training in Washington as a secret agent and was sent to Mexico City. There I served under the direct supervision of Howard Hunt, about whom of course a great deal is known.

The National Review, with a circulation of nearly 112,000, has assumed the mantle of intellectual leadership in the far right. It was created by William F. Buckley, son of an oilman, who was a loyal supporter of McCarthy. At various times its staff has included Brent Bozell (comrade-in-arms of Joseph McCarthy and of Barry Goldwater), James Burnhatn (an extremist professor), Frank Meyer, William F. Rickenbacker and Clarence Manion (well-known rightist leaders), Godfrey Schmidt (a legal expert with extreme rightist views), Morrie Ryskind (a playwright), and General A. C. Wedemeyer. No less reactionary are the journal's contributors, who include theologian Will Herberg, Henry Hazlitt, philosopher Russell Kirk, historian John Chamberlain, and professor of political science Willmoore Kendall. Articles by members of America's academic community have made the National Review the intellectual standard-bearer of the right. Buckley himself is considered a most accomplished journalist; he writes for dozens of newspapers with a circulation of millions. He styles himself a "radical conservative." Buckley's journal acclaimed the birth of the John Birch Society, which "stirred the slumbering spirit of patriotism in thousands of Americans, roused them from lethargy." Its editors are sober enough to reject the ultra-rightist myth that the "reds" are already in control of Washington, but they are convinced that liberalism is leading the USA down the primrose path. Thus the journal wages constant ideological war against the liberal aspects of the policies of the American ruling class, which the right terms the "liberal establishment."

The most influential ultra-rightist youth group in the USA at present is the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who in the early 60s emerged into the limelight of American politics, figures largely in the story of its origin. After the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago he thanked young conservatives for their support, and suggested that they form an organization. About a hundred representatives from forty-four campuses met in Sharon, Connecticut (home of William F. Buckley), on September 9 through 11 of that year to found the YAF. Eloquent witness to the orientation of the new group is the fact that its national council included eleven members of the John Birch Society.

The ideology and politics of the YAF are based on the theories of well-known rightist economists such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman, who have been trying since the Second World War to rewrite the past fifty years in the economic and political history of the USA. These authors hold that the right to private property should be absolutely unlimited. Their demagoguery is directed against the very modest social and economic concessions the ruling class has been forced to make to the working people; they condemn the progressive income tax, minimum wage laws, various forms of social security, price controls, etc.-everything that runs counter to the immediate interests of property owners-as fatal to capitalism and the American way of life.

The Sharon Statement, adopted at the YAF's founding conference, repeats the basic tenets of the ultra-conservative credo. It maintains that the free market is the only economic system compatible with personal freedom and constitutional government, and also the best way to supply human needs, and that government interference with it tends to break down the moral and physical fiber of the nation.

Practically speaking, these demands for laissez-faire free enterprise are an anachronism, wholly unrealizable under the conditions of state-monopoly capitalism. Politically, however, they remain attractive to many among the middle and especially the petty bourgeoisie, who are forced to shoulder the tax burden of the USA's immense government bureaucracy. With the help of such demagoguery rightists seek to gain the support of America's numerous petty bourgeoisie for their struggle against the working class-the main force within the country fighting for social and economic change.

As to foreign policy the Sharon Statement urges that the USA concentrate its efforts not on peaceful coexistence but on victory over communism all around the world.

The Sharon Statement is the fullest exposition of the ideology of America's ultra-rightist youth as a whole. But its significance goes beyond that. Its basic theses were adopted unchanged by the American Conservative Union, a rightist organization that was formed in 1964 and carried considerable political weight in later years. The Sharon Statement became the manifesto of America's most reactionary forces, the battle standard of conservatism. Its authors see as their mission the preparation of young people "for the struggle ahead with Liberalism, Socialism and Communism" - which are the same in the eyes of the YAF.

As of 1970, there were basically three covert operations. One was under the aegis of Haldeman's "November Group" and could be called political propaganda/espionage. This group's field controls were former New York City policemen John Caulfield and Anthony J Ulasewicz on the East Coast acid "prankster" Donald Segretti on the West. A second team of amateur political agents worked out of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). These young, middle-level bureaucrats began to panic as Nixon slipped behind Edmund Muskie and George Wallace in some of the 1970 polls.

The third operation was Charles Colson's "Attack Group" or "black advance." This was the Hunt-Liddy network, the Gemstone axis of the conspiracy. By February 1972 this group had taken over the Segretti "dirty tricks" network, the CREEP "political propaganda" operation, the White House Special Intelligence Unit (the "Plumbers"), and the intelligence fronts using narcotics control as a cover (DALE, Operation Intercept). The paramilitary, unofficial Gemstone net not only controlled all of the other political efforts of the presidential campaign, but had penetrated and was beginning to use and compromise the FBI, CIA, Treasury, Office of Economic Opportunity, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and perhaps a dozen other federal agencies, plus local intelligence or "Red Squads" across the country. This was the magnitude of Operation Gemstone.

Colson was the key figure. Publicly, as Special Counsel, he was liaison between the White House and various political groupings-the Reverend Carl McIntire, the Liberty Lobby, and similar right-wing extremists; the Eastern European ethnics, many of them neo-fascists; the American Security Council and the National Rifle Association; Teamster officials and organized crime; ITT, the multinationals, and the CIA. Covertly, he was liaison to the White House from the secret government, with primary responsibility for Operation Gemstone. Charles Colson was the double agent, and his plan was simplicity itself:

1. Prepare to re-elect the president. Eliminate Wallace. Isolate the left.

2. Seize the government. Disrupt the GOP convention. Blame the left and the center. Declare a state of national emergency. Rule with Nixon, or without him. More a coup de main than a coup d'etat.

3. Cover up. Eliminate anyone who could "talk."

4. Build new mass base. Use four-year American Bicentennial Celebration to drown all remaining dissent...

Later Colson would arrange anti-Nixon incidents at the AFLCIO convention in Miami and hard-hat attacks against antiwar demonstrators in New York. It seems likely that he was also involved in an early rehearsal of Gemstone at a Nixon appearance in San Jose, California, in late October. According to Congressman Paul McCloskey and the local police chief, the ultraconservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) sent its members to pose as anti-Nixon demonstrators. Both Hunt and Colson were founders of YAF.

For nineteen months in 1951 and 1952, Hunt had under his orders William F. Buckley, Jr., who later became the well-known syndicated conservative columnist. Buckley was in Mexico for the CIA on what he recently described as a "tangential special project." They quickly befriended each other, and Buckley is the godfather of three Hunt children. He remains to this day Hunt's best friend and was named the executor of Dorothy Hunt's estate after she was killed in a plane crash in 1972.

Townley added the final touches to the bomb as Paz held the parts in place for him. Suarez read and talked. Townley planned to place the bomb under the driver's seat; he molded the plastique to blow the full explosive force directly upward.

At about midnight he felt satisfied with his handiwork. The three left the motel in Paz's Volvo and stopped by the train station; Townley went to the ticket window to find out if there were any trains leaving for the New York area in the early morning hours. There were none.

"During the ride to Letelier's house," he wrote, "I was informed by Paz and Suarez that they expected me to place the device on the car as they wished to have a DINA agent, namely myself, directly tied to the placing of the device."

Townley kept quiet. He carried the bomb under his dark blue sweatshirt and wore corduroy pants. He hadn't planned on getting his pants dirty, but he had weighed the alternatives and decided he would have to tape the bomb himself.

Paz drove into the street parallel to Ogden Court. Townley walked from behind two houses into the turn-around area of the cul-de-sac and surveyed the block. People were entering a neighboring house, "so I turned around, returning to the parallel street, and walked up the hill on this parallel street, until I met Paz and Suarez, at which time we drove around to take up some time and then returned to the entrance of Letelier's street, where I was dropped off at the top of the hill."

On one side of the Leteliers lived an FBI agent; on the other, a Foreign Service officer. As Townley walked down the hill, some dogs barked, then stopped. Television screens glowed greyly through windows.

Letelier's car was parked in the driveway, nose in. Townley walked directly to the car, lay down on his back on the driver's side, pulled up his blue sweatshirt to expose the bomb, put his tools in accessible positions, and slid under the car. The space was small, Townley large. Moving as little as possible, he attached the bomb to the crossbeam with black electrical tape, occasionally flicking on a pencil flashlight to check its position.

Footsteps. Townley froze, trying to control his breathing. Not more than two inches separated him from the car chassis. The footsteps faded. He began to run tape from the speedometer cable to the explosive. What had seemed like an ample supply of tape now appeared scanty. He didn't want the bomb to slip or fall off.

He heard the sound of an engine: a car was approaching with its radio on. He stopped again, perspiration now pouring down his face and soaking his hands and body. The radio became louder; it was a police band. Townley fought to stay calm. The radio got still louder; now he could see the tires from the corner of his eye. But the car moved on, turned around in the cul-de-sac, and picking up speed, left the block. Townley flicked the flashlight on. The bomb was firmly attached, even though he would have preferred to run more tape around the crossbeam. He began to slide out. But had he taped the slide switch into the "on" position? He might have covered it in the "off" or "safety" position. He slid back under and felt, trying to remember which side was on and which off. He found the nub; it was off. He pushed it until it clicked, then pressed the tape into the groove with his finger to prevent the switch from falling back. But electrical tape is pliant and may not hold the switch, he thought.

Lack of time could lead to mistakes. Paz and Suarez had insisted that he place the bomb personally and that he do it that night. Townley felt a chill enter his sweat-laden body as he walked up the hill out of Ogden Court.

The Cubans picked him up on the deserted corner and headed slowly onto River Road. Townley told them of his uncertainty about the switch being in the correct position.

Buckley’s decision to launch the National Review was a watershed event on the right by any measure. As Buckley’s admiring social-democratic biographer John Judis notes, "Except for Chodorov, who was a Buckley family friend, none of the right-wing isolationists were included on National Review’s masthead. While this point of view had been welcome in the Freeman, it would not be welcome, even as a dissenting view, in National Review."

As Judis notes, Schlamm, who envisioned himself as the guiding light behind NR, was not even a conservative. He "had more in common with Dwight MacDonald or Daniel Bell than with Robert McCormick; Buckley was turning his back on much of the isolationist...Old Right that had applauded his earlier books and that his father had been politically close to."

Buckley, by 1955, had already been in deep cover for the CIA. While there is some confusion as to the actual duration of Buckley’s service as an agent, Judis notes that he served under E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame in Mexico City in 1951. Buckley was directed to the CIA by Yale Professor Wilmoore Kendall, who passed Buckley along to James Burnham, then a consultant to the Office Of Policy Coordination, the CIA’s covert-action wing.

Buckley apparently had a knack for spying: before his stint with the Agency, he had served as an on-campus informant for the FBI, feeding God only knows what to Hoover’s political police. In any case, it is known that Buckley continued to participate at least indirectly in CIA covert activities through the 60s.

The founding circle of National Review was composed largely of former agents or men otherwise in the pay of the CIA, including Buckley, Kendall, and Burnham. Wall Street lawyer William Casey, rooted in OSS activities and later to be named director of the CIA, drew up the legal documents for the new magazine. (He also helped transfer Human Events from isolationist to interventionist hands.)

NR required nearly half a million to get off the ground; the only substantial contribution known was from Will Buckley, Senior: $100,000. It’s long been rumored that CIA black funds were used to start the magazine, but no hard evidence exists to establish it. It may also be relevant that the National Review was organized as a nonprofit venture, as covert funding was typically channeled through foundations.

By the 70s, it was known that Buckley had been an agent. More imaginative right-wingers accused Buckley of complicity in everything from the assassination of JFK to the Watergate break-in, undoubtedly owing to his relationship with the mysterious Hunt.

But sober minds also believed that something was suspicious about the National Review. In a syndicated column, Gary Wills wondered, "Was National Review, with four ex-agents of the CIA on its staff, a CIA operation? If so, the CIA was stingy, and I doubt it – but even some on the editorial board raised the question. And the magazine supported Buckley’s old CIA boss, Howard Hunt, and publicized a fund drive for him." In reply, Buckley denounced Wills for being a classicist. But others close to the founding circle of National Review nurtured similar suspicions. Libertarian "fusionist" Frank Meyer, for example, confided privately that he believed that the National Review was a CIA front.

If it was, then it was the federal government that finally broke the back of the populist and isolationist right, the mass-based movement with its roots in the America First anti-war movement. What FDR tried and failed to do when he sought to shut down the Chicago Tribune, when his attorney general held mass sedition trials of his critics on the right, and when he orchestrated one of the worst smear campaigns in US history against his conservative opponents, the CIA accomplished. That in itself ought to lead conservatives to oppose the existence of executive agencies engaged in covert operations.

Today, the war-mongering right is self-sustaining. Money flows like milk and honey to neoconservative activists from the major conservative foundations. Irving’s son Bill Kristol has his sugar daddy in the form of media tycoon and alien Rupert Murdoch. National Review is boring, but in no danger of going under financially.

But the cozy relationship with the federal government is the same. Neocons Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan now insist on massive extensions of the warfare state. The Weekly Standard demands a ground war to topple the head of a foreign government unfriendly to Israel, while denouncing right-wing isolationism, libertarianism, and Murray Rothbard.

This time, the right-wing War Hawks face a potentially insurmountable challenge. The pro-war propaganda directed at the domestic population is failing badly. It is ineffective for two principle reasons: mounting intellectual opposition to the warfare state and the return of grassroots isolationism. Both trends have come to the fore. And not only with the collapse of communism. Widespread public disillusionment exists over the Gulf War of 1991. Sold to the public as a high-tech "virtual" war, the consequences have been harder to hide than the execution of the attack. With over a million Iraqis dead, Hussein still in power, US soldiers apparently poisoned by their own government and a not so far-fetched feeling that the public was duped into supporting an unjust slaughter, people are starting to regard the Gulf War as an outrage. And they are right.

A C-SPAN look-in on President Bush’s challenge on tax reform featured two bright and experienced young scholars, libertarian in outlook. Mark Henrie, from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and Doug Bandow, appearing under the auspices of the Cato Institute, acknowledged that Mr. Bush’s reforms would not be shaped by fundamentalist models. Thoughtful reformers in the recent past have focused on alternative approaches to tax reform radical in character. The first would eliminate the progressive feature of the income tax - Rockefeller and his chauffeur would both pay 15 percent of their income. The second goes further, eliminating not only the progressive feature of the income tax, but the income tax itself, substituting a sales tax. Congressman Dick Armey wrote a book advocating a reform that drastic, and Milton Friedman many years ago made recommendations that deep.

It ain’t going to happen, was the consensus on C-SPAN, so one lowers one’s sights. What is it that could entice the Bush administration and those Congressmen who seek a substantial change in the laws?

In a recent conversation with Professor Friedman, he stressed the point that substantial reform cannot be expected for one simple reason: Congressmen are in Washington to craft tax laws that enhance the interests of their own constituents.

I wrote in a book 30 years ago that “tax reforms seek to improve on previous tax reforms by arching their provisions, like jungle leaves writhing for the sunlight, towards such rays of justice and equity as are discernible at any given moment of relative composure in American politics, when the pandemonium freezes, as for a photographer, for just long enough to permit one set of claimants to overshadow another. Thus a tax reform is born.”

Never mind the verbal frosting, the analysis is undeniable. A tax reform is a new code enacted after massive wrestling and eye-gouging and threats and excoriations, presented as a civilized enhancement of social policy. It is an assertion of justice, justice understood as a blend of considerations: the necessities of the state; the toleration of the body politic; the relationships of power among the affected interests; and rough justice. All of the above decocted from the minds and hearts of 535 legislators.

But the call for intelligibility is more than merely a cry for understanding. The incomprehensibility of modern IRS language challenges the dignity of self-rule. “For purposes of paragraph 3, an organization described in paragraph 2 shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501 c, sub-paragraphs 4, 5, or 6; which would be described in paragraph 2 if it were an organization described in section 501c 3.” That paragraph is taken from the 1969 Tax Reform Law, and sheer physical cowardice discourages investigation into how subsequent tax reform laws absorbed that paragraph. What we do know is that the current law consumes over 54,000 pages.

Complexity of tax law language informs us of attempted refinements of fiscal thought. Yet these refinements, piled one on another, can end in vitiating the purpose of the law and even in contradicting it. A desire to shelter the poor can’t get around the regressive impact of state sales taxes on goods the poor need to have, whether telephone service necessary to employment, or cigarettes for which there is psychic dependency. You can’t frame sales tax schedules on proportionality: because rich and poor have common necessities.

The political clamor during the election season had to do with the relief given to the rich by the tax law of June 2001, which reduced the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. This meant that the highest bracket taxpayers pay $60 to $80 billion less in taxes than they would otherwise pay. These are the same 1 percent of taxpayers who come up with 34 percent of all the income taxes that flow in to the federal register. There will be a first-class row over the question whether the richest Americans should be permitted to be that rich.

That much we can count upon. But also, we can hope that even if radical legislation has to be postponed yet again, the criteria will affect the legislative mood, and illuminate the way to sounder tax laws.

It is time to ponder the strategic impact of the casualty figures. Those that are relevant to this analysis are widely familiar. The U.S. has lost approximately 1,500 dead in military action and 10,000 wounded, and we continue to lose, dead, about 50 soldiers every month. The Iraqis (using loose counts) die and are wounded at about ten times the U.S. rate. Moreover, the Iraqi deaths have increased substantially since the national election in January.

We know philosophically that all deaths should be counted equally, since we are all God’s children. But it isn’t surprising that U.S. concern should focus on deaths of our own troops, with concern for Iraqi casualties mostly as a building block of strategic reckoning. It may sound inhuman, but it is very human to care about our own on the battlefield. And doing so sharpens the strategic picture for us. We are entitled to say to ourselves: If the bloodletting is to go on, it can do so without our involvement in it.

The indecisive course of affairs keeps us from saying with any confidence that Iraqi security forces are now capable of maintaining a peace. Some will reason that the impulse to kill will wither the day the last American embarks for home. But it is by no means safe to conclude that if U.S. troops withdrew tomorrow, killings in Iraq would end. troops are the most tempting targets of the insurgents, but every day bombs go off, and suicide killers set out, even when there is no prospect of killing a U.S. soldier.

We have, by our agitation for free elections and human rights, enlivened Iraqis who had never experienced freedom, and we can safely assume that their enthusiasm for a freer society affects the public mood. But it is manifest that also affected are those whose determination is to advance their cruel agenda. The hatred of the Shiites for the Sunnis is not seriously affected by the existence of U.S. troops in the area. The resentment expressed by Kurdish spokesmen for parliamentary approaches to human problems is felt like the bite of steel wire across the palm of the hand.

It is easy and imperative to tally the deaths of Iraqis caused by Saddam Hussein. What does not follow, from this exercise, is any confident conclusion on how Iraqis would have fared in the absence of Saddam. Algeria and Libya and Vietnam tell us what can happen when you chase away foreign authorities. “It is difficult but you get used to it,” Naba S. Hamid, a biology professor at Baghdad University, is quoted as saying. “It has become part of our daily lives. Just like eating, sleeping, there is bombing.”

There are two burdens in America, one of them ascribable to our conscience. We can’t “desert” those who enlisted in our proclaimed cause. We did exactly that when we deserted Vietnam, but we are unlikely to do it again in the Near East, because too many people are looking directly on and would understandably react against U.S. nonchalance with rage and contempt.

But the burden we took on as the military agent of regime change is legitimately moderated by the passage of time and the achievement of proximate goals. We said we’d remove Saddam Hussein, and we did. We said we’d train non-Baathist security personnel, and we have not only done so, we’ve left in place reserves that can maintain institutional batteries of reform. We said we would introduce popular rule, and we did so: parliamentary government at least exists.

The day has to come, and the advent of that day has to be heralded, when we say that our part of the job is done as well as it can be done, given limitations on our will and our strength. It is an Iraqi responsibility to move on to wherever Iraq intends to go. Our job depends heavily on being done when we declare it to have been done, not by the legerdemain proposed thirty years to get us out of Vietnam, but by reasonable talk about reasonable but limited commitments to Iraqi reform.

The blurt by Pat Robertson on the matter of Hugo Chavez received the kind of spastic disavowal it deserved, and also warranted. It would not be sensible to undertake the assassination of Hugo Chavez. Diplomatically it was a mistake even to use the language of assassination. And the greatest damage was to increase the odds against any assassination of Chavez. If he was going to be shot, or yanked from office, this could be done, and would best be done, by Venezuelans. They very nearly did it last April. U.S. intervention to limit Chavez’s term was alleged back then, but we could plausibly deny having had anything to do with the movement to recall him. Now, even though Pat Robertson cannot be conceived by a jury of halfwits as representing U.S. policy, what he said will be quoted by generations of communicants in the religion of anti-yanquiism to throw doubt on U.S. bona fides.

The principal reason to disavow the assassination of foreign leaders is self-interest. People who are elected or who otherwise achieve political primacy are vested with sacramental immunity. Many kings, presidents, and dictators depend for their survival on domestic arrangements. The Emperor Julian required that anyone who entered into his chamber should be stark naked. Mao Tse-tung did not go that far, but might as well have done so given the elaborate measures he adopted to remove himself from the common man he spent his lifetime glorifying, and avoiding the company of.

Now here is a key point. Sometimes rules are broken. But - it is always wrong, when they are broken, to admit that they have been broken. Not even Congress, let alone the Associated Press, serves the role of confessor.

It was this rule that was most flagrantly violated by the Church Committee in 1975. Here was a "Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities." I am staring at Senate Report No. 94-465, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. "We have found concrete evidence of at least eight plots involving the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro from 1960 to 1965." That document bears the signatures of Frank Church, chairman, John Tower, vice chairman, and then Democratic Senators Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, Walter Huddleston, Robert Morgan, and Philip Hart, and Republican Senators Howard Baker, Barry Goldwater, Bob Mathias, and Richard Schweiker.

Critics, among them Arthur Schlesinger, dismissed the attempted assassinations as acts of a rogue executive agency, acting roguishly. It can be held that the CIA acted ineptly, but not that it acted on its own steam.

Senator Howard Baker years ago brought to my own attention the recorded questioning of Richard Helms, then CIA chief, on whether Attorney General Robert Kennedy was aware of the attempts on the life of Castro. The answer was that Kennedy was aware (confirmed by Baker, by telephone, today). Based on the Church hearings, I wrote a novel in 1987 (Mongoose R.I.P.) describing the attempts on the charmed life of the dictator.

The Venezuelan vice president has asked for a more direct repudiation of Mr. Robertson by President Bush. In fact, lesser voices than the president's have done all the disavowing that needs to be done. To add his own voice would be psychologically ill-advised. The critics in Venezuela and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere will harp on the Reverend Robertson's placing the desires of the flesh above those of the spirit. For President Bush to come on the scene to throw yet another spear into the infidel suggests that another spear is needed, even though those who have eyes to see, and minds to use, know that Mr. Robertson is quite dead, needing no supplementary toxin.

Meanwhile, the memory of U.S. presidential complicity in assassination plots is very nearly dead. There have been no references, post the Robertson initiative, to the old "Special Group" that began to meet every Tuesday morning in 1962 in the White House Situation Room to discuss the end of Castro. McGeorge Bundy was the group's chairman. Bundy reported to the president "on the desirability of not spreading knowledge of covert operations any wider than absolutely necessary, if we are to preserve the principal of deniability."

Arthur Schlesinger captured priorities precisely, in a memorandum written in April 1961. "When lies must be told, they should be told by subordinate officials. At no point should the president be asked to lend himself to the cover operation. There seems to me merit in Secretary Rusk's suggestion that someone other than the president make the final decision and do so in his absence - someone whose head can later be placed on the block if things go terribly wrong."

One of Schlesinger’s "failure options" was to put the blame on the CIA as "errant idealists and soldiers-of-fortune working on their own." We can safely assume that the CIA never even saw the Robertson broadcast.

I met E. Howard Hunt soon after arriving in Mexico City in 1951. I was a deep-cover agent for the CIA — deep-cover describing, I was given to understand, a category whose members were told to take extreme care not to permit any grounds for suspicion that one was in service to the CIA.

The rule was (perhaps it is different now) that on arriving at one's targeted post, one was informed which single human being in the city knew that you were in the CIA. That person would tell you what to do for the duration of your service in that city; he would answer such questions as you wished to put to him and would concern himself with all aspects of your duty life.

The man I was told to report to (by someone whose real name I did not know) was E. Howard Hunt. He ostensibly was working in the U.S. Embassy as a cultural affairs advisor, if I remember correctly. In any event, I met him in his office and found him greatly agreeable but also sternly concerned with duty. He would here and there give me special minor assignments, but I soon learned that my principal job was to translate from Spanish a huge and important book by defector Eudocio Ravines.

Ravines had been an important member of the Peruvian Communist Party in the '40s. He had brought forth a book called "The Road From Yenan," an autobiographical account of his exciting life in the service of the communist revolution and an extended account of the reasons for his defection.

It was a lazy assignment, in that we were not given a deadline, so the work slogged on during and after visits, averaging one every week, by Ravines to the house that I and my wife had occupied that used to be called San Angel Inn - post-revolution, Villa Obregon. (We lived and worked at Calero No. 91.) It is a part of Mexico City on the southern slopes, leading now to the university (which back then was in central Mexico City).

It was only a couple of weeks after our meeting that Howard introduced me to his wife, Dorothy, and their first-born child, Lisa. I learned that Howard had graduated from Brown University and was exercised by left-wing activity there, by the faculty, the administration and students. This made him especially interested in what I had to say about my alma mater. My book, "God and Man at Yale," was published in mid-October 1951, and I shook free for one week's leave to travel to New York to figure in the promotion.

I persevered in my friendship with the Hunt family. But in early spring of 1952, when the project with Ravines was pretty well completed, I called on Howard to tell him I had decided to quit the agency. I had yielded to the temptation to go into journalism.

Our friendship was firm, and Howard came several times to Stamford, Conn., where my wife and I camped down, and visited. I never knew — he was very discreet — what he was up to, but assumed, correctly, that he was continuing his work for the CIA. I was greatly moved by Dorothy's message to me that she and Howard were joining the Catholic communion, and they asked me to serve as godfather for their children.

Years passed without my seeing Howard. But then came the Watergate scandal — in which Howard was accused of masterminding the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, among other things, and was ultimately convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping — and the dreadful accident over Midway Airport in Chicago that killed Dorothy in December 1972. I learned of this while watching television with my wife, and it was through television that I also learned that she had named me as personal representative of her estate in the event of her demise.

That terrible event came at a high point in the Watergate affair. Then I had a phone call from Howard, with whom I hadn't been in touch for several years. He asked to see me.

He startled me by telling me that he intended to disclose to me everything he knew about the Watergate affair, including much that (he said) had not yet been revealed to congressional investigators.

What especially arrested me was his saying that his dedication to the project had included a hypothetical agreement to contrive the assassination of syndicated muckraker Jack Anderson, if the high command at the Nixon White House thought this necessary. I also remember his keen surprise that the White House hadn't exercised itself to protect and free him and his collaborators arrested in connection with the Watergate enterprise. He simply could not understand this moral default.

It was left that I would take an interest, however remote, in his household of children, now that he was headed for jail. (Neither he nor Dorothy had any brothers or sisters.)

Howard served 33 months. I visited him once. I thought back on the sad contrast between Hunt, E.H., federal prisoner, and Hunt, E.H., special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, and his going on to a number of glittering assignments but ultimately making that fateful wrong turn in the service of President Nixon, for which his suffering was prolonged and wretchedly protracted.

I prefer to remember him back in his days as a happy warrior, a productive novelist, an efficient administrator and a wonderful companion.

In his television show Firing Line (1966-99), he became the most feared controversialist in America. Kind and generous in private, Buckley could be sarcastic and cruel in defence of his beliefs. His gladiatorial contests on air reached a climax in an infamous row with Gore Vidal in 1968. When Vidal persisted in suggesting that Buckley's views made him something close to a fascist, Buckley burst out: "Now, listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the face!" Buckley was ashamed of himself for losing control, and developed a gentler style.

He loved to shock those he regarded as wimpish liberals, but it was important to him to present himself as a gentleman. He was a man of culture, a gifted writer and brilliant debater, and a sincere Catholic. He was also an accomplished pianist, and from 1976 onwards wrote a series of popular novels about CIA agent Blackford Oakes. In all, he produced more than 40 books and 5,600 of his biweekly newspaper columns, On the Right. A keen sailor, Buckley made a number of voyages, across the Atlantic and the Pacific, in large yachts loaded with friends, vintage wine, hundreds of hours of taped Mozart and Motown, word processors (for captain and crew to write their books on) and a piano for the captain's Bach.

At the same time, he freely expressed views most people would regard as oafish. For a long time he approved of racial segregation, though later he seems to have come to understand that this would conflict with his stylish image. He continued to write with gross insensitivity about Africans. He was openly homophobic, and when Aids first appeared, he suggested that gay men should be tattooed on the buttocks. As a young man, when asked about his beliefs, he replied: "I have God and my father, and that's all I need."

Born in Manhattan, he was the sixth child of Will Buckley, a Texas Irishman who made and lost a fortune in Mexican oil and then made it back in Venezuela. Buckley Snr rescued priests during the Mexican revolution and brought up his children to think of themselves as counter-revolutionaries. After taking the children to live in Mexico, France and England, he settled on an estate in rural Connecticut.

Buckley Snr resembled his contemporary Joseph Kennedy in that he was a self-made Irish millionaire, anti-communist and isolationist who had a fierce determination that his children must succeed in competition with the Protestant elite. Young William's older sister recalled that they were given professional instruction in "apologetics, art, ballroom dancing, banjo, bird-watching" and so on alphabetically for a long paragraph to "tennis, typing and tap-dancing".

Buckley's first book, "God and Man at Yale," was met with the usual thoughtful critiques of anyone who challenges the liberal establishment. Frank Ashburn wrote in the Saturday Review: "The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face."

The president of Yale sent alumni thousands of copies of McGeorge Bundy's review of the book from the Atlantic Monthly calling Buckley a "twisted and ignorant young man." Other reviews bordered on the hyperbolic. One critic simply burst into tears, then transcribed his entire crying jag word for word.

Buckley's next book, "McCarthy and His Enemies," written with L. Brent Bozell, proved that normal people didn't have to wait for the Venona Papers to be declassified to see that the Democratic Party was collaborating with fascists. The book -- and the left's reaction thereto -- demonstrated that liberals could tolerate a communist sympathizer, but never a Joe McCarthy sympathizer.

Relevant to Republicans' predicament today, National Review did not endorse a candidate for president in 1956, correctly concluding that Dwight Eisenhower was not a conservative, however great a military leader he had been. In his defense, Ike never demanded that camps housing enemy detainees be closed down.

Nor would National Review endorse liberal Republican Richard Nixon, waiting until 1964 to enthusiastically support a candidate for president who had no hope of winning. Barry Goldwater, though given the right things to say - often by Buckley or Bozell, who wrote Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative" - was not particularly bright.

But the Goldwater candidacy, Buckley believed, would provide "the well-planted seeds of hope," eventually fulfilled by Ronald Reagan. Goldwater was sort of the army ant on whose body Reagan walked to greatness. Thanks, Barry. When later challenged on Reagan's intellectual stature, Buckley said: "Of course, he will always tend to reach first for an anecdote. But then, so does the New Testament."

With liberal Republicans still bothering everyone even after Reagan, Buckley went all out against liberal Republican Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. When Democrat Joe Lieberman challenged Weicker for the Senate in 1988, National Review ran an article subtly titled: "Does Lowell Weicker Make You Sick?"...

In a famous exchange with Gore Vidal in 1968, Vidal said to Buckley: "As far as I am concerned, the only crypto Nazi I can think of is yourself."

Buckley replied: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

Years later, in 1985, Buckley said of the incident: "We both acted irresponsibly. I'm not a Nazi, but he is, I suppose, a fag."

Writing in defense of the rich in 1967, Buckley said: "My guess is, that the last man to corner the soybean market, whoever he was, put at least as much time and creative energy into the cornering of it as, say, Norman Mailer put into his latest novel and produced something far more bearable -- better a rise in the price of soybeans than 'Why Are We in Vietnam?'" (For you kids out there, Norman Mailer was an America-hating drunkard who wrote books.)

Some of Buckley's best lines were uttered in court during a lengthy libel trial in the '80s against National Review brought by the Liberty Lobby, which was then countersued by National Review. (The Liberty Lobby lost and NR won.)

Irritated by attorney Mark Lane's questions, Buckley asked the judge: "Your Honor, when he asks a ludicrous question, how am I supposed to behave?"

In response to another of Lane's questions, Buckley said: "I decline to answer that question; it's too stupid."

When asked if he had "referred to Jesse Jackson as an ignoramus," Buckley said, "If I didn't, I should have."

Baldwin v. Buckley

On Oct. 26, 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley debated at the Cambridge Union debating society for and against the following motion: “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro.”

Each man was allotted 15 minutes to make his argument. Although both speakers exhibited rhetorical mastery, Baldwin, a writer and social critic, won the debate by a tremendous margin. Baldwin secured a standing ovation from the Union, a phenomenon that the narrating host claimed he “had not seen in the Union . . . in all the years [he had] known it.”

William F. Buckley, a popular conservative intellectual, argued that African-American communities were responsible for actively pursuing their own opportunities for societal advancement, which were available to all Americans on equal terms. According to Seneca Vaught, a historian at Kennesaw State University , Buckley failed to connect with his audience, despite his intent to “appeal to an imagined common Albion ancestry, and reason with descendants of a common cultural heritage.” Though this had been “a tactic that worked among conservative and segregationist audiences in the United States,” Vaught said it fell flat in Cambridge.

Part of Baldwin’s rhetorical genius, on the other hand, was his ability to transition forcefully between the second-person:

In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.

I am speaking very seriously, and this is not an overstatement: I picked cotton, I carried it to the market, I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing. For nothing.

Throughout his speech, Baldwin emphasized the differences between black and white Americans. A key concept in his argument was conflicting “systems of reality.” In other words, the sets of beliefs people held were specific to an individual’s background, ethnicity and cultural identity.

Buckley argued that African American communities were responsible for actively pursuing their own opportunities for societal advancement, which were available to all Americans on equal terms. Vaught posits that “Buckley ascribed racial problems to personal behavior that could be easily remedied by individual action.” Baldwin, on the other hand, crafted a more subtle narrative that reconciled black and white America on the level of ideals and values (that all should be treated equally by law, for example), but also illuminated the divide between perceived ideals and practical realities. Societal systems and structures are constructed with certain goals or ideals in mind, but deeply ingrained individual beliefs about race, for example, undeniably influenced how individuals operating these structures interacted with perceived racial or cultural ‘others’. Today, when the mistreatment of African Americans by members of law enforcement continues to be a daily, televised reality, Baldwin’s words on systemic racism resonate with just as much force as they did fifty years ago.

Backstory caught up with host Brian Balogh, Compton Professor at the Miller Center and the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia , to gain some insight into this historic debate, and how its message lives on in contemporary discussions about race.

Q: Did Buckley and Baldwin address each other, or the topic, directly and adequately?

A: Yes, I think both men addressed the topic well, albeit arriving at very different conclusions about it. Baldwin went first and couldn’t address Buckley, but Buckley made Baldwin the centerpiece of his answer in many ways. One key point Buckley made was that some African Americans are indeed treated equally, witnessed by the fact that James Baldwin was the toast of the town, and one of the most popular speakers on college campuses. So Buckley used Baldwin as evidence to demonstrate his larger point: that African Americans were not uniformly discriminated against, with Baldwin being one of those who wasn’t.

Q: How was this debate different in style, and substance, from domestic debates between presidential candidates and politicians at other points in the 20th century?

A: If we start with most recent debates, including all the presidential debates starting with John F. Kennedy, each of the debaters in the Baldwin-Buckley debate took a lot more time to make their point, elaborate, and cover far fewer questions. They dealt with one question, whereas all modern presidential debates deal with a whole range of questions. The ratio of time spent answering the question has clearly narrowed. Many more questions, far shorter answers.

Q: Are there echoes of Baldwin and Buckley in contemporary debates, and especially in this election season?

A: Yes. I think one of the key themes that Baldwin stresses is that African Americans are invisible. While that situation is changing, and while the contributions of African Americans have been better understood, I believe that the discussion about race relations between police and the community continues to ignore the basic humanity of African Americans — especially African American males. It’s also interesting that the contemporary conservative response is quite different from Buckley’s position. Buckley’s position in 1965 was that African Americans were better off than most people around the world, whereas today, the conservative response to Hillary Clinton’s effort to reach out to African Americans, is that “life is hell” for them. It’s odd that conservatives are stressing how bad things are for African Americans, at least in the first presidential debate, whereas Clinton is stressing empowerment and the fact that not all African American communities are “hell,” though there is still work to be done.

Learn more about the history of debate in America by listening to BackStory’s episode, “Fighting Words.”

Diana Williams
BackStory Digital Editor & Strategist
[email protected]

Standing Athwart History: The Political Thought of William F. Buckley Jr.

Abstract: In the mid-1950s, the danger of an ever-expanding state was clear, but conservatives could not agree on an appropriate response, including whether the greater danger lay at home or abroad. The three main branches of conservatism—traditional conservatives appalled by secular mass society, libertarians repelled by the Leviathan state, and ex-Leftists alarmed by international Communism led by the Soviet Union—remained divided. Noting that “The few spasmodic victories conservatives are winning are aimless, uncoordinated, and inconclusive…because many years have gone by since the philosophy of freedom has been expounded systematically, brilliantly, and resourcefully,” William F. Buckley Jr. resolved to change that. His vision of ordered liberty shaped and guided American conservatism from its infancy to its maturity, from a cramped suite of offices on Manhattan’s East Side to the Oval Office of the White House, from a set of “irritable mental gestures” to a political force that transformed American politics.

In the summer of 1954, American conservatism seemed to be going nowhere.

Politically, it was bereft of national leadership. Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the valiant champion of the Old Right, had died of cancer the previous year. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, the zealous apostle of anti-Communism, faced censure by the U.S. Senate and almost certain political oblivion. Barry Goldwater was an unknown freshman Senator from the electorally marginal state of Arizona. Pollsters were predicting that the Democrats would recapture the Congress in the fall and press their Fabian Socialist dream of making America into a social democracy run from Washington.

Intellectually, there was a near vacuum on the Right. There were only three opinion journals of import: the weekly Washington newsletter Human Events the economic monthly The Freeman and the once-influential American Mercury, now brimming with anti-Semitic diatribes. Aside from the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, the major daily newspapers leaned left. Of the three weekly newsmagazines, only U.S. News & World Report was reliably right.

Commentators like syndicated columnist George Sokolsky and radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis Jr. had their national audiences, but liberals smoothly undermined their effectiveness by associating them with extremists. CBS’s Mike Wallace invited television viewers one evening to listen to his guest Fulton Lewis explain “the attraction the far right has for crackpot fascist groups in America.”[1]

In contrast, liberals dominated every important part of American intellectual life from The New York Times and Harvard to the New Republic and the Council on Foreign Relations. So it was, so it had always been, so it will always be, asserted liberal intellectuals.

In The Liberal Imagination, literary critic Lionel Trilling declared that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition” in America. When conservatives did attempt to express themselves, he wrote almost regretfully, the result was at best “irritable mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas.”[2]

Reviewing Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr. remarked dismissively that Kirk’s “scurrying about” for intellectual respectability had produced only “an odd and often contradictory collection of figures” that did not rise “to the dignity of a conservative tradition.”[3] Prize-winning liberal historian Clinton Rossiter stated that America was “a progressive country with a Liberal tradition,” making conservatism, despite its contributions here and there, a “thankless persuasion.”[4]

By the mid-1950s, however, a congeries of critics of the Left had surfaced. They represented three quite different groups: traditional conservatives appalled by the secular mass society surrounding them, libertarians repelled by a Leviathan state that threatened free enterprise and individualism, and ex-Leftists alarmed by international Communism led by the Soviet Union.[5]

Yet divided they were, and divided they would remain—unless an overriding event or an individual of unusual resolve and charisma brought them together. The catalyst turned out to be William F. Buckley Jr., a 29-year-old Yale graduate and privileged son of an oil millionaire who could have been the playboy of the Western world but chose instead to be the St. Paul of the modern conservative movement in America.

Bill Buckley embodied the three main branches of modern American conservatism. He had read the radical libertarian Albert Jay Nock as a teenager and often quoted from Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, with its belief in a “Remnant” of elite writers and thinkers who would one day build a new and free society on the ruins of the modern welfare state.

He admired traditionalist Russell Kirk’s ground-breaking work The Conservative Mind, which describes the conservative intellectual patrimony of America from Founding Father John Adams to Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot. Buckley noted with approval Kirk’s warning in the last chapter that “simple expostulation and lamentation” will not suffice to resist the liberals’ planned society. Conservatives will have to grapple, Kirk writes, with the problem of “spiritual and moral regeneration” the problem of leadership, which will require a thorough reform of the education system the problem of enabling the mass of men to find “status and hope within society” and, finally, the problem of “economic stability.”[6]

Already firmly anti-Communist because of his father’s experience with Mexican-style Marxism and his own rock-solid Catholicism, Buckley was mesmerized by Whittaker Chambers’ best-selling autobiography, Witness. The book recounts Chambers’ journey from Communist Party member and Soviet spy in the 1930s to fervent anti-Communist and witness against fellow espionage agent Alger Hiss, a golden boy of the liberal establishment. In renouncing Communism, Chambers admits that he is probably leaving the winning side but finds reason to keep fighting against Communism in his children.

Buckley endorsed Chambers’ analysis of modern liberalism as a watered-down version of Communist ideology. The New Deal, Chambers insists, is not liberal democratic but “revolutionary” in its nature and intentions, seeking “a basic change in the social and, above all, the power relationships within the nation.”[7]

Looking about him in the early 1950s, Buckley observed that the Right lacked focus and cohesion. “The few spasmodic victories conservatives are winning,” he wrote, “are aimless, uncoordinated, and inclusive. This is so…because many years have gone by since the philosophy of freedom has been expounded systematically, brilliantly, and resourcefully.”[8] He resolved to change that.

At the invitation of conservative publisher Henry Regnery, Buckley and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell had written a massive 250,000-word manuscript about the anti-Communist activities of Senator Joe McCarthy. Regnery commissioned Willi Schlamm, a brilliant, Time-tested editor, to shorten the manuscript and write an introduction.

While they were working together, Schlamm shared with Buckley his long-held dream of starting a weekly conservative journal of opinion. After several lengthy discussions, Schlamm secured Buckley’s commitment to the undertaking with the understanding that the American wunderkind would serve as editor in chief and the 47-year-old Austrian intellectual and former Communist would fill the role of senior editor and éminence grise.

Buckley’s assent flowed from two factors. He had already been thinking about starting a magazine, mentioning it to a CIA colleague (Buckley served briefly in the agency after graduating from Yale) and to his best Yale friend, Evan Galbraith. He had sought the advice of publisher Regnery, who suggested he edit a prospective monthly along with Russell Kirk. But Buckley was not interested in a scholarly journal of limited circulation and influence. He wanted to have an impact on the power centers of America, and right away.

The other factor in his decision was the intellectual vacuum that existed in the still amorphous conservative movement—a vacuum he intended to fill.

Present at the creation of National Review were traditional conservatives Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, libertarians Frank Chodorov and John Chamberlain, and anti-Communists James Burnham and Frank Meyer. The largest group by far comprised the anti-Communists, all of whom were ex-Communists: Willi Schlamm, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Freda Utley, Max Eastman, and Whittaker Chambers, who did not formally become an editor until 1957.

It was Bill Buckley’s special genius as an editor that he was able to keep these philosophically dissimilar and doctrinaire writers on the same masthead for years to come. In fact, he had been honing a philosophical fusionism since his days as “chairman” (i.e., editor) of the Yale Daily News.

Pre-Buckley, the Yale Daily News had followed the usual course of college newspapers, dutifully reporting the results of fraternity elections, the latest administration press releases, and the ups and downs of the various athletic teams. Now the News sent reporters to New York and Washington to cover national stories while Buckley editorialized about Yale’s educational flaws, the dangers of Communism, the virtues of capitalism, and the welfarist thrust of the Truman Administration. (“There is no indication,” he wrote, “that the majority of his backers have elevated Mr. Truman to the White House to lead the United States to socialism.”)

While other college editors of the day shied away from discussing religion and politics, Buckley most days wrote about nothing else. He stressed the importance of religions banding together “in their struggle against the godless materialism whose headway in the last 30 years threatens civilization.” He endorsed the convictions of the Smith Act trials of 11 Communist leaders. He attacked the hypocrisy of liberals who protested the U.S. appearance of German musicians like pianist Walter Gieseking, who had performed in Nazi Germany, but not the U.S. appearance of Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich.[9]

The young conservative editor wondered why anybody should be shocked that spokesmen for the American Communist Party had declared that in the event of war with Russia, American Communists would side with the Soviet Union: “We must here assert a well-known fact…. [T]he Communist Party of the United States is an agent of Soviet Russia.” He encouraged the Young Republicans holding a two-day convention nearby to reassert “the principles of freedom of enterprise [and] anti-New Dealism.” He defended pre-World War II isolationism as a “sane” policy while conceding that the “world division into two ideological camps” made such isolationism in 1949 “impossible.”[10] The latter was a significant concession by Buckley, who as editor of National Review would approve the existence of a formidable U.S. military establishment in what he regarded as a life-and-death struggle against Communism.

When a reader challenged an editorial’s argument that Yale University had the right, as a private institution, to exclude any and all minorities, Buckley did not back down, anticipating the conservative arguments of the 1960s against civil rights legislation. We believe, he wrote, that “discrimination of sorts [is] indispensable to the free society…. Human beings are equal only in the eyes of God.”[11]

His most controversial editorials criticized a popular Yale professor of anthropology, Raymond Kennedy, who routinely dismissed religion in his class as a “matter of ghosts, spirits, and emotions.” Buckley was aroused by the professor’s attacks on a pillar of the American experiment and by what he perceived as an abuse of the principle of academic freedom.

While conceding that Kennedy was entitled to his own beliefs about the existence of God, Buckley insisted that he was not entitled to undermine religion in the classroom through “bawdy and slap-stick humor” and “emotive innuendoes” such as: “Chaplains accompanying modern armies are comparable to witch doctors accompanying tribes.” In his sociology class, Buckley charged, Kennedy “has made a cult of anti-religion” and thereby undermined “the tenets of Christianity,” especially among impressionable, malleable freshmen and sophomores. In so acting, Kennedy was “guilty of an injustice to and imposition upon his students and the University.”[12]

As we will see, the question of whether Yale had abandoned God would be a major theme of Buckley’s first (and best-selling) book, God and Man at Yale. Later, as editor of National Review, Buckley would state that although agnostics and even atheists were welcome in the pages of the magazine, “God-haters” were not.

At the end of his one-year term as chairman of the News, Buckley wrote a series of editorials titled “What to Do?” in which he called on Yale and other universities to defend free enterprise against the challenge of socialism—another major theme of God and Man at Yale. He wrote:

The battle to retain free enterprise as the fundamental economic philosophy for America is being lost, and there are those of us who mind. The battle is even being lost at Yale…. We are losing the battle for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most influential is the spirit of restlessness, of iconoclasm, of pragmatism that is intellectually au courant and that is warmly embraced by so many evangelistic young intellectuals who find…their most enthusiastic disciples in the cloistered halls of a university, where everything goes in the name of the search for truth and freedom of inquiry.[13]

For Bill Buckley, the idea of “everything goes” was absurd and to be dismissed along with pragmatism and its sibling relativism, which were at the root of the restlessness that afflicted so many young intellectuals. The philosophical alternative was a blend of conservatism, with its emphasis on order and custom, and libertarianism, with its belief in freedom. Buckley called on Yale and other colleges to establish “Adam Smith chairs of Political and Economic Philosophy” in which the adherents of free enterprise could present the arguments for the system which had made America the most prosperous and free nation in the world.

The Yale Daily News editorials are worthy of examination, not only for the high rhetoric and easy insouciance that would characterize Buckley’s mature writing, but because they reflect the major strains of American conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s—traditionalist, libertarian, and anti-Communist.

Buckley would take up the same themes in God and Man at Yale, which he published a year after he graduated. He offers a searing critique of his alma mater, charging that its values are agnostic as to religion, “interventionist” and Keynesian as to economics, and collectivist as regards the relation of the individual to society and government. While conceding the validity of academic freedom for a professor’s research, Buckley insists that the professor does not have the right to “inseminate” values into the minds of his students that are counter to the values of the parents paying his salary.

Drawing on his university experience, Buckley submits that Yale has abandoned both Christianity and free enterprise or what he calls “individualism.” Throughout the book, he calls himself not a “conservative” but an “individualist,” a term borrowed from his libertarian mentor Frank Chodorov. Buckley says that Yale faculty members who foster atheism and socialism ought to be fired because the primary goal of education is to familiarize students with an existing body of truth, of which Christianity and free enterprise are the foundation. “Individualism is dying at Yale,” Buckley says flatly, “and without a fight.”[14]

The Yale administration was not pleased with Buckley’s conclusions—indeed, it was furious. Yale officers and their supporters heaped bitter invective upon Buckley, calling his book “dishonest,” “ignorant,” and reminiscent of “a fiery cross on a hillside.” Some critics praised the work, including the New Republic’s Selden Rodman, who said that Buckley wrote with “a clarity, a sobriety, and intellectual honesty that would be noteworthy if it came from a college president.”[15] Buckley was where he loved to be—in the middle of a red-hot controversy.

A decisive intellectual influence on Buckley at Yale and someone who did considerable editing of God and Man at Yale was political scientist Willmoore Kendall. “He was a conservative all right,” Buckley said later, “but invariably he gave the impression that he was being a conservative because he was surrounded by liberals that he’d have been a revolutionist if that had been required in order to be socially disruptive.” He said of Kendall: “I attribute whatever political and philosophical insights I have to his tutelage and his friendship.”[16]

Kendall was known for his groundbreaking work on John Locke and the principle of majority rule, going so far as to favor unlimited majority rule. But Georgetown University’s George Carey points out that Kendall “refined his views considerably in light of the American political system.” Kendall argued that the Founding Fathers placed a premium on achieving consensus “rather than simply counting heads” and intended that Congress express the popular will through such consensus. However, he said, liberals have succeeded in establishing the President as “the most authentic representative of the people’s values and aspirations.”[17]

As a result, there were two majorities in America: the congressional majority, based on the values and interests of the thousands of communities across the country, and the presidential majority, which spoke for the people as a mass. Kendall asserted that Congress as an institution was inherently more conservative than the presidency.

Buckley was struck by Kendall’s Nock-like metaphor that the conservative forces were strung out in isolated outposts over a wide front which the liberals could overrun one at a time because they, unlike the conservatives, were able to concentrate and coordinate their forces. Only when the conservative outposts united in recognition of their common enemy “would conservatism prevail.”[18] Buckley would adopt and adhere to a strategy of unification or fusionism as editor in chief of the magazine that he and Willi Schlamm proposed to launch.

The Birth of National Review

First, however, he had to raise an estimated $550,000 ($4.4 million in 2010 dollars) to underwrite the magazine until it had a sufficient number of subscribers and advertisers. He went calling on wealthy conservatives in the Midwest, the Deep South, and Texas, where Buckley was judged by billionaire oilman H. L. Hunt and other wildcat Texans to be too Catholic, too Eastern, and too moderate. Not even his father’s Texas background and degree from the University of Texas made a difference.

Hollywood was more receptive, thanks to the award-winning screenwriter Morrie Ryskind (among his credits, the Marx Brothers’ films), who introduced the young conservative to John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Adolphe Menjou, Ward Bond, Robert Montgomery, and other film stars as well as businessmen Henry Salvatori and Frank Seaver.

Buckley’s experiences with the different brands of conservatism strengthened his resolution to steer a course between the right-wing cave of Scylla and the modern Republican whirlpool of Charybdis.

Along with fund-raising, Buckley was busy trying to enlist the right people to edit his magazine. He had three writers in mind: James Burnham, the Trotskyite turned realpolitik conservative Whittaker Chambers, the former Soviet spy who now called himself a man of the Right and Russell Kirk, the traditional Midwestern conservative. He would later add the staunchly libertarian Frank Meyer, ensuring that his journal would articulate the conservative, libertarian, and anti-Communist positions.

Burnham, who had been asked to leave Partisan Review for being too sympathetic to Joe McCarthy, quickly accepted Buckley’s offer. He too had been thinking about a weekly conservative magazine that dealt with the issues of the day. Burnham was Buckley’s first recruit and would become first among equals of the senior editors. His realist arguments would serve to alleviate Buckley’s idealism.

Russell Kirk was happily ensconced in isolated Mecosta, Michigan, where he could read all day and write all night. He had no intention of removing himself to New York City where the new magazine would be headquartered, and he was adamant about not associating with what he called “the Supreme Soviet of Libertarianism” represented by Frank Chodorov and Frank Meyer. Kirk was still incensed over Meyer’s charge in The Freeman that he and other “new conservatives” had no grounding in “clear and distinct principle.” According to Meyer, Kirk did not comprehend the ideas and institutions of a free society.[19]

Undaunted, Buckley traveled to Mecosta where, after an extended evening of Tom Collinses and conversation about the world, the flesh, and the devil, Kirk agreed to write a column about higher education in America, although not to serve as an editor. Buckley worked hard to maintain the Kirk–NR relationship in recognition of Kirk as a preeminent voice of conservatism. He reassured Kirk that Chodorov and Meyer did not bear any malice toward him but attached “a great deal of importance to one aspect of the current [philosophical controversy].” He wrote Kirk that “just as you reproach them for being too sectarian, I would reproach any magazine that closed its eyes to the transcendent affinities between you and Meyer and chose to be so sectarian as to run only the one or the other.”[20]

Buckley’s fusionist balm helped heal some of the animosity, although the two intellectuals never had a true meeting of the minds, even after Meyer abandoned his staunchly libertarian position while creating a new philosophical construct that came to be called fusionism.

Next on the list was Whittaker Chambers, “the most important American defector from communism.” Buckley had been spellbound by Chambers’ Dostoyevskian memoir Witness, and he was eager to bring the former Communist and senior Time editor on board his magazine. He and Schlamm made several visits to Chambers’ Maryland farm, and there was extensive correspondence in which Buckley sought to allay any doubts Chambers might have, even offering at one point to remove himself as editor if that was an obstacle to Chambers’ participation.

In the process, Buckley and Chambers became friends, but Chambers still declined to join the venture. Buckley thought the reason was that he and the magazine entertained doubts “about Richard Nixon’s fitness to succeed Eisenhower,” who had suffered a heart attack in 1955 and, it was rumored, would not seek a second presidential term. Liberal biographer John Judis suggests that Chambers believed that Buckley and his colleagues were too ideological, whereas he preferred the “Beaconsfield position,” a more pragmatic approach to politics.

“That is what conservatives must decide,” Chambers wrote Buckley: “how much to give in order to survive at all how much to give in order not to give up the basic principles.” It is a fundamental question that confronts every participant in politics.

Jeffrey Hart, who served as a senior editor of National Review for more than 30 years and wrote a discerning history of the magazine, regards the issue Chambers raised as central to the evolution of National Review. It can be framed, Hart says, as the choice “between right-wing Paradigm and realistic Possibility.”

Chambers described his politics as “dialectical” that is, he would assess a political situation as accurately as he could and then take corrective action. The result might only be a small gain in the right direction, but a gain was better than nothing. (During his presidency, Ronald Reagan would often say that he would accept 70 or 80 percent of what he wanted if he could come back for the other 20 or 30 percent later.) Over the years, Hart says, James Burnham would come to “embody [the Chambers] strategy, gradually prevailing over Buckley’s ‘ideal’ impulses.” The cumulative effect was to move Bill Buckley toward a Chambers–Burnham realism and “the magazine toward greater effectiveness.”[21]

This writer agrees with Hart’s analysis except on the issue of Communism. Here Buckley’s “ideal impulse” produced an uncompromising anti-Communist stance, not far from the slogan of hard-core McCarthyites that “the only good Communist is a dead Communist.”

Joining libertarian Albert Jay Nock, conservative Willmoore Kendall, and realist James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers was the fourth consequential influence on Buckley’s political thinking. When Chambers died in 1961, Buckley compared his singular voice to that of the famed Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad, saying it was “magnificent in tone, speaking to our time from the center of sorrow, from the center of the earth.”[22]

Buckley’s Ambition for National Review

The objective of his new magazine, Buckley wrote a prospective supporter, was “to revitalize the conservative position” and “influence the opinion-makers” of the nation. Liberals “know the power of ideas,” Buckley said, “and it is largely for this reason that socialist-liberal forces have made such a great headway in the past thirty years.” The young editor took an openly elitist position, stating that his journal would not attempt to appeal to the grassroots but to conservative intellectuals and to those who “have midwifed and implemented the [socialist-liberal] revolution. We have got to have allies among [them]”[23]

In their prospectus for investors, Buckley and Schlamm rejected Eisenhowerism or modern Republicanism as “politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant.” The most alarming single danger to the American political system, they said, was that a team of Fabian operators “is bent on controlling both our major parties—under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as ‘national unity,’ ‘middle-of-the-road,’ ‘progressivism,’ and ‘bipartisanship.’”[24]

In a separate memorandum, Buckley called his publication “a formative journal” that would “change the nation’s intellectual and political climate” just as The Nation and The New Republic helped usher in “the New Deal revolution.” He conceded the boldness of his ambition but insisted that the time was right for a magazine (and, by implication, a movement) that would oppose the growth of government, “Social Engineers,” those who counsel co-existence with Communism, intellectual conformity, the elimination of the market economy, and world government. Every one of these themes resonated strongly with the different branches of conservatism.

In its first issue in November 1955, the magazine offered not just one but two explanations of its raison d’étre, a “Publisher’s Statement” and “The Magazine’s Credenda.” The former, bylined by Buckley, who served as both editor and publisher, contained the famous phrase about “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop.” This is what Buckley wrote:

The launching of a conservative weekly journal of opinion in a country widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather like publishing a royalist weekly within the walls of Buckingham Palace. It is not that, of course if National Review is superfluous, it is so for very different reasons: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.[25]

The passage was vintage Buckley: unexpected, describing America as a bastion not of liberalism but of conservatism erudite, using “a work of supererogation” (going beyond what is necessary) rather than something like “a gratuitous act” and audacious, presenting NR as a mini-colossus standing athwart history yelling the impossible: Stop.

The publisher explained that National Review was out of place in the sense that the United Nations and League of Women Voters and The New York Times and the liberal historian Henry Steele Commager were in place. Liberals were in fact running just about everything: “there never was an age of conformity quite like this one.”

Conservatives in America, Buckley wrote, “are non-licensed nonconformists and this is a dangerous business in a Liberal world.” However, added the grateful publisher, there were conservatives of “a generous impulse and a sincere desire to encourage a responsible dissent from the Liberal orthodoxy.” (As we will see from Buckley’s treatment of the John Birch Society and other extremists, “responsible” was an operative word.) These conservatives agreed that “a vigorous and incorruptible journal of conservative opinion is—dare we say it?—as necessary to better living as Chemistry.”

Despite the heavy odds, Buckley said, NR was starting with a considered optimism. After all, more than 120 investors had made the magazine possible, including several of small means. A score of professional writers had pledged their devotion. There was solid evidence that hundreds of thoughtful men and women believed that such a journal as National Review “would profoundly affect their lives.”

And so, Buckley concluded, “we offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of gigantic parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D.’s in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town.”[26]

The language was provocative, poetic, slangy, and irresistible, and there was more. In a separate one-page “The Magazine’s Credenda” the editors declared themselves to be “irrevocably” at war with “satanic” Communism: Victory, not accommodation, must be the goal. They were unapologetically “libertarian” in the battle against the growth of government. They described themselves as “conservative” in the struggle between “the Social Engineers” who try to adjust mankind to scientific utopias and “the disciples of Truth” who defend the organic moral order.[27]

On the back cover were congratulatory messages from 19 of conservatism’s finest, nicely distributed among competing points of view, including columnist and one-time FDR adviser Raymond Moley, steel executive and retired Admiral Ben Moreell, Utah Governor (and Mormon) J. Bracken Lee, free-market economist Ludwig von Mises, ACLU lawyer and honest liberal Irving Ferman, Hollywood producer Cecil B. DeMille, former New Jersey Governor (and son of Thomas) Charles Edison, former Sunoco president J. Howard Pew, ex-boxing champion Gene Tunney, and anti-tax activist Vivien Kellems.

Liberals did their best to belittle and bury the new journal. Murray Kempton in The Progressive called it a “national bore”—an opinion he would later recant. Kempton would in fact become a frequent guest on Firing Line and a good friend of its host. Dwight Macdonald in Commentary wrote that the magazine appealed to “the half-educated, half-successful provincials…who responded to Huey Long, Father Coughlin and Senator McCarthy.” Harper’s editor John Fischer saw deeper, more dangerous currents in the magazine, writing that National Review was not “an organ of conservatism, but of radicalism.”[28]

Buckley was not disturbed by these charges far better to be unfairly criticized than to be ignored.

The great majority of conservative intellectuals warmly welcomed the new journal and lined up to write for it. A few declined, like the Southern agrarian Allen Tate, who did not share NR’s enthusiasm for McCarthy, and the Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot, who wrote Russell Kirk that the publication was “too consciously the vehicle of a defiant minority.”[29]

But if National Review had not been founded, wrote George Nash, “there would probably have been no cohesive intellectual force on the Right in the 1960s and 1970s.” We can delete the word “probably.” As Nash said, “much of the history of American conservatism after 1955 is the history of the individuals associated with the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. founded.”[30]

Up from Liberalism: The Beginnings of National Review

In the first critical years of NR and until 1962 when he began writing a syndicated newspaper column, Bill Buckley devoted almost 90 percent of his working time to the magazine. During this period, he published only one book, Up from Liberalism, which argues that modern liberalism is more deserving of the label “reactionary” than is modern conservatism.

Modern liberals, he says scornfully, believe that “truths are transitory and empirically determined,” “equality is desirable and attainable through the action of state power,” and “all peoples and societies should strive to organize themselves upon a rationalist and scientific paradigm.” The conservative alternative, Buckley says, is based on “freedom, individuality, the sense of community, the sanctity of the family, the supremacy of the conscience, the spiritual view of life.”[31]

As to a specific course of action, conservatives must maintain and wherever possible enhance “the freedom of the individual to acquire property and dispose of that property in ways that he decides on.” With regard to the perennial problem of unemployment, Buckley says, we should eliminate monopoly unionism, featherbedding, and inflexibilities in the labor market. “Let the natural desire of the individual for more goods and better education and more leisure…find satisfaction in individual encounters with the marketplace, in the growth of private schools, in the myriad economic and charitable activities.”

Echoing his libertarian mentors Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov, Buckley says flatly that “I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me.” He continues defiantly: “I will use my power as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.” Such a program, he ends, is enough “to keep conservatism busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free.”[32]

Slowly but steadily, Buckley constructed a strategy with the following objectives: Keep the Republican Party—the chosen political vehicle of conservatives—tilted to the Right eliminate any and all extremists from the movement flay and fleece the liberals at every opportunity and push hard for a policy of victory over Communism in the Cold War.

It was therefore no surprise when, in the spring of 1960, National Review published a glowing review of a little book that became the most widely circulated political manifesto of the decade: Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Remarking the lucidity and power of the author’s rhetoric, Frank Meyer praised Goldwater for his firm handling of the liberal argument that the conservative position was irrelevant in today’s world. He quoted Goldwater:

Conservatism, we are told, is out of date. The charge is preposterous, and we ought boldly to say no. The laws of God, and of nature, have no deadline. The principles on which the conservative political position is based…are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation.[33]

Having laid down a philosophical foundation, Goldwater proposes a program “for the extension of freedom at home and for the defense of freedom against Soviet aggression”—the latter the more pressing challenge. The “awful truth” confronting America, he insists, is that we could establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom “and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union.” Goldwater is as blunt as a two-by-four: “A tolerable peace…must follow victory over Communism.”[34]

In the area of domestic policy, Goldwater calls for a reduction in federal spending of 10 percent “the prompt and final termination of the farm subsidy program” the enactment of state right-to-work laws and a flat income tax because “government has a right to claim an equal percentage of each man’s wealth, and no more.” The last idea came from University of Chicago economist and future Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, with whom Goldwater developed a lasting friendship.

Meyer conceded in his review that the Goldwater strategy was startling but argued that nothing less would express the dictates of conservative principle “in this crisis of the Republic.”[35] He did not mention that the actual writing of the book had been done by another senior editor of National Review, Brent Bozell.

The Goldwater–Bozell collaboration produced an enormous best-seller—3.5 million copies were in circulation by 1964—incorporating the ideas of the major strains of modern American conservatism, traditional conservatism, libertarianism, and anti-Communism. The little book created a new national spokesman in Goldwater and advanced the conservative movement more quickly than anyone, including Bill Buckley, expected.

In September of that same year, Buckley hosted at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, the founding meeting of Young Americans for Freedom, which became the political youth arm of the conservative movement. YAF’s statement of principles, the Sharon Statement, was drafted by self-identified fusionist M. Stanton Evans, a frequent NR contributor. The statement affirmed certain eternal truths at “this time of moral and political crisis”:

  • That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force
  • That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom
  • That the purpose of government is to protect these freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice
  • That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government
  • That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties
  • That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace.[36]

Here are the central themes that lie at the core of modern American conservatism: Free will and moral authority come from God political and economic liberty are essential to the preservation of free people and free institutions government must be strictly and constitutionally limited the market economy is the system most compatible with freedom and Communism must be defeated, not simply contained. These ideas also form the core of Bill Buckley’s personal political philosophy.

In November 1960, Buckley hosted an elegant black-tie banquet in New York City’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel commemorating the fifth anniversary of National Review. (The magazine would hold a celebratory dinner every five years into the 21st century.) Buckley was by turns jubilant, pessimistic, pixieish. He noted the presence of such distinguished sponsors as former President Herbert Hoover, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, and Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He reminded the audience that NR remained dedicated to defending freedom and opposing Communism—“the worst abuse of freedom in history”—and “the socialized state [which] is to justice, order, and freedom what the Marquis de Sade is to love.”

He entertained with one-liners by NR writers, including: “To sigh, as James Burnham has done, that Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt viewed the world as one vast slum project” and to write, as Willmoore Kendall did, that “Gerald Johnson, columnist of the New Republic, wonders what a football would think of the game if a football could think. Very interesting, but less relevant than to ask, What would a New Republic reader think of the New Republic if a New Republic reader could think?”

Amid the merriment, he cautioned fellow conservatives that “we are probably destined to live out our lives in something less than a totally harmonious relationship with our times” but asserted that they could rely on National Review, as long as it was “mechanically possible,” to be “a continuing witness to those truths which animated the birth of our country, and continue to animate our lives.”[37]

Buckley Defines the Movement

When necessary, Buckley took decisive action against the irresponsible Right. The first prominent extremist read out of the movement was the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand, whose growing influence among young conservatives alarmed Buckley and other conservatives. In December 1957, Whittaker Chambers took up arms against the founder of objectivism and her 1,168-page novel Atlas Shrugged.

Chambers, the former Communist atheist and now firm believer in a transcendent God, declared that the story of Atlas Shrugged was preposterous, its characters crude caricatures, its message “dictatorial.” Although Rand, a refugee from Soviet Russia, insisted that she was anti-statist, she called for a society run by a technocratic elite. “Out of a lifetime of reading,” Chambers said, “I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained.”[38]

Buckley ensured that Chambers was joined by other influential conservatives. Russell Kirk called objectivism a false and detestable “inverted religion.” Frank Meyer accused Rand of “calculated cruelties” and the presentation of an “arid subhuman image of man.” Garry Wills, a Buckley protégé, called Rand a “fanatic.” A furious Rand described National Review as “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America” and vowed never again to remain in the same room with Bill Buckley, a promise that she scrupulously kept.[39]

The casting out of Robert Welch and the extremist positions of the John Birch Society that he headed proved more difficult and contentious but was necessary, in accordance with Buckley’s design to build an effective, prudential conservative counter-establishment.

Over the objections of Brent Bozell, publisher William Rusher, Frank Meyer, and new senior editor William Rickenbacker, Buckley wrote an extended editorial expelling Welch from the conservative movement. Supported by James Burnham and his sister Priscilla, Buckley declared that Welch was “damaging the cause of anti-Communism” with his inability to make the critical distinction between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectually anti-Communist Liberal.” He said scornfully that Welch’s scoreboard describing the United States as “50–70 percent Communist-controlled” was in effect saying that “the government of the United States is under operational control of the Communist Party.” Buckley yielded to no one in his passionate opposition to Communism, but Welch’s position was not only wrong but harmful to the cause of anti-Communism. He concluded his editorial by saying that “love of truth and country called for the firm rejection of Welch’s false counsels.”[40]

Some subscribers who were John Birch Society members angrily cancelled their subscriptions, as Rusher had warned they would, but the great majority of readers agreed with Senators Barry Goldwater and John Tower, who wrote letters to the editor endorsing the magazine’s stand. They understood that, rather than dividing the conservative cause, Buckley had strengthened it. Another letter read: “You have once again given a voice to the conscience of conservatism.” It was signed “Ronald Reagan, Pacific Palisades, Cal.”[41]

Buckley also took a firm stand against anti-Semitism, informing NR writers that the magazine would “not carry on its masthead the name of any person whose name also appears on the masthead of the American Mercury.” Under owner Russell Maguire, the once-respected magazine had descended into the swamps of neo-Nazism, endorsing, for example, the theory of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy set forth in the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[42]

Buckley and the magazine did not acquit themselves as well on the issue of civil rights, taking a rigid states’ rights position that equaled, in the eyes of many liberals and almost all black Americans, a stand in favor of segregation and therefore racism. In his articles and editorials, Buckley clearly rejected the politics of Southern racists like Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George Wallace of Alabama, but he also argued that the federal enforcement of integration was worse than the temporary continuation of segregation. Consistent with the conservative principle of federalism, he favored voluntary gradual change by the states.

But Mississippi was burning, and freedom riders were being murdered. “You are either for civil rights or against them,” declared blacks who did not see a dime’s worth of difference between Wallace and Buckley. As a result of National Review’s above-the-fray philosophizing and Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and even to the present.

In a panel discussion in October 2005 marking NR’s 50th anniversary, liberal commentator Jeff Greenfield asked Buckley whether he regretted his own and the magazine’s resistance to the civil rights movement. Yes, the 80-year-old Buckley replied. He realized that, in retrospect, he and his colleagues were relying too much on normal political processes as outlined in the Constitution to fully incorporate blacks into American public life. Many Southern states, he admitted, simply did not permit blacks to participate.[43]

A Consensus of Principle

One other critical step had to be taken before the conservative movement could be a major player in American politics: It had to be philosophically united. Throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s, traditionalists and libertarians snapped and snarled at each other in National Review, The Freeman, and other publications as well as public forums. Traditionalist Russell Kirk was accused of being hostile to individualism and laissez-faire economics, while libertarian F. A. Hayek was faulted for defending freedom on strictly utilitarian grounds rather than according to “the absolute transcendent values on which its strength is founded.”[44]

One conservative became convinced that beneath the raw rhetoric lay a true consensus of principle: Frank Meyer, the fast-talking, chain-smoking, ex-Communist senior editor of National Review. Through articles, books, and endless late-evening telephone calls, Meyer communicated his synthesis of the disparate elements of conservatism that came to be called fusionism—a term coined not by Meyer but by traditionalist Brent Bozell, who argued that any lasting correlation of freedom and virtue was not possible.[45]

The core fundamental of conservatism, Meyer said, was “the freedom of the person, the central and primary end of political society.” To Meyer, man was a “rational, volitional, autonomous individual.” Political order should be judged as to whether it increases or decreases individual freedom. The state had only three limited functions: national defense, the preservation of domestic order, and the administration of justice between citizens. “Society and the states were made for individual men,” he insisted, “not men for them.”[46]

Freedom was the indispensable condition for the pursuit of virtue, Meyer wrote. No community can make men virtuous, but he adds this about the relationship between virtue and God: “the church is, of all human associations, the most important and the most directly related to the inculcation of virtue.”[47] Why the emphasis on virtue? Because, as John Adams wrote, “public virtue is the only foundation of republics.” There must be “a positive passion for the public good” established in the minds of the people, he said, or there can be “no republican government, nor any real liberty.”[48]

Meyer said that modern American conservatism was not classical liberalism, which had been significantly weakened by utilitarianism and secularism. Most classical liberals, he said, were seemingly unable to distinguish between “the authoritarianism” of the state, which suppresses human freedom, and “the authority of God and truth.” Conservatives, he said, were trying to save the Christian understanding of “the nature and destiny of man.”[49] To do that, they had to absorb the best of both branches of the divided conservative mainstream.

Meyer insisted that he was not creating something new but articulating an already existing conservative consensus forged brilliantly by the Founders in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. John Adams, James Madison, George Washington, and others agreed that Americans must use liberty to choose virtue.

In a typically generous obituary, Buckley described Meyer as “the principal living American theorist of freedom.” He was, Buckley wrote, “the father of the ‘fusionist’ movement in American conservatism” that “seeks to bring together into symbiotic harmony the classical laissez-faire of the 19th century liberal and the reverence for tradition of Edmund Burke,” a fusion amply felt by the Founding Fathers and “defended empirically by conservatives during the past 150 years.”[50]

Regardless of philosophical orientation, George Nash observed, all conservatives were agreed that the state should be circumscribed and were deeply suspicious of federal planning and attempts to centralize power. They defended the Constitution “as originally conceived” and opposed the “messianic” Communist threat to Western civilization. In an essay titled “Notes Toward an Empirical Definition of Conservatism,” Buckley wrote that what National Review had striven to do from the beginning was to achieve “a general consensus on the proper balance between freedom, order, justice, and tradition”—that is, to fuse the basic ideas of traditional conservatism and libertarianism.

The political climax of conservatism in the 1960s was Barry Goldwater’s historic presidential campaign when, George Nash points out, politics and ideas were related as they had not been for a long time. Goldwater was the conservative movement’s own. National Review enthusiastically promoted his candidacy. Russell Kirk drafted a couple of his speeches, including a major address at Notre Dame University, and praised him in his newspaper column. Professor Harry Jaffa of Ohio State University wrote Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Milton Friedman, among other conservative academics such as Stefan Possony, Warren Nutter, and Richard Ware, served as an academic adviser. “It is likely,” Nash wrote, “that without the patient spadework of the intellectual Right, the conservative political movement of the 1960s would have remained disorganized and defeated.”[51]

Buckley was personally cautious about Goldwater, affected by James Burnham’s doubts about the Senator’s intellectual capacity, but he was attracted to Goldwater’s libertarian views on government. In The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater says that we must elect Members of Congress who declare, “I did not come to Washington to pass laws but to repeal them.” Buckley also admired Goldwater’s uncompromising anti-Communism, spelled out in Conscience and a subsequent book, Why Not Victory? But like Goldwater himself, he knew that the conservative Senator had very little chance of winning the presidency in 1964.

After Goldwater won the Republican primary in California and effectively clinched his nomination, Buckley tried to prepare fellow conservatives for the inevitable outcome in the general election. He wrote, “This is probably Lyndon Johnson’s year, and the Archangel Gabriel running on the Republican ticket probably couldn’t win.”[52]

However, Buckley realized that Goldwater’s presidential bid enabled him to raise issues and propose conservative solutions such as a flat tax, an end of farm subsidies, and a victory policy in the Cold War to forge a national political organization that could be used by future conservative candidates to establish for the first time a broad financial base for the conservative movement through direct mail and television appeals and to demonstrate that there was a political force called conservatism that could no longer be dismissed but could nominate a conservative and capture millions of votes—all of which went far beyond Bill Buckley’s original goal of trying to stop history and entered a new world of attempting to shape history.

One month before Election Day, at the anniversary dinner of the Conservative Party of New York, Buckley mentioned Goldwater only once and instead focused on what conservatives might accomplish in the following decades. He spoke of the possible and the ideal in politics. “How this movement, considering the contrary tug of history,” he said, “has got as far as it has got, is something that surpasses the understanding of natural pessimists like myself.”

He argued that if conservative politics wanted to be successful, it had to steer a middle course between the ideal and the prudential. This golden mean, influenced by James Burnham, very much alive, and Chambers, dead but not forgotten, became Buckley’s guiding principle and would, in John Judis’s words, “influence a great many conservative politicians” in the years ahead.[53]

However, the golden mean is not a precise point midway between two extremes, but rather a shifting point that sometimes winds up closer to the ideal and sometimes to the prudential. Buckley would veer between the two ends, depending upon the issue and the state of the conservative movement.

Buckley’s Run for Mayor

In 1965, he decided to put his political philosophy to the test by running for public office. Never one to start at the bottom, he decided to run for mayor of New York City. His reasons were several. He wanted to help block the political ascendancy of Representative John Lindsay, whom liberal Republicans regarded as a serious presidential possibility. A good showing in New York City would bolster conservative spirits, depressed by the devastating Goldwater defeat in November (the Arizona Senator had carried only six states and received just 38.5 percent of the popular vote). He had some definite ideas about the management of a metropolis, borrowed heavily from Harvard professors Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan.

In June, he wrote a column titled “Mayor, Anyone?” that set forth a 10-point platform on which a candidate might run. What strikes one forcibly is its strongly libertarian character. He recommended that “anti-narcotic laws for adults” be repealed that gambling be legalized that anyone without a police record be allowed to operate a car as a taxi and that communities be encouraged to finance their own “watchmen,” relieving the municipal police force of what he called “an almost impossible job.[54]

Buckley also anticipated Representative Jack Kemp’s free-enterprise zone proposal a decade later by suggesting that state and federal authorities suspend property and income taxes for all “Negro or Puerto Rican entrepreneurs” who established businesses in depressed areas in the inner city. He also proposed, several years before Governor Ronald Reagan offered his welfare reform program in California, that all welfare recipients be required to do “street cleaning or general prettification work” for the city. Here was the first conservative articulation of the workfare principle.[55]

On Election Day, an impressive 13.4 percent of the New York City electorate (341,226) voted for Bill Buckley on the Conservative Party line while John Lindsay eked out a narrow win, receiving 45.3 percent to Democrat Abe Beame’s 41.3 percent. That Buckley’s mayoral effort sketched the outlines of a winning political coalition of ethnic Catholic Democrats and middle-class Republicans was later confirmed by political analyst Kevin Phillips. In his landmark study The Emerging Republican Majority, published in 1969, Phillips cited Buckley’s 1965 vote as a “harbinger” of the new majority.

Despite his considerable political success, Buckley offered a pessimistic appraisal of the future at National Review’s 10th anniversary dinner. He recalled that “Albert Jay Nock once wondered whether it would be possible to write an essay demonstrating that the world is moving into a Dark Age.” Buckley dismissed politics as “the pre-occupation of the quarter-educated” and cursed the 20th century for giving “sentient beings very little alternative than to occupy themselves with politics.”

Still, he admitted, it was impossible to ignore politics, given the ever-expanding nature of the Great Society and the reality of “the dark side of the Iron Curtain.” And so, he said, we pursue the “homelier, and headier, pleasure of duty and restraint, of order and peace, of self-discipline and self-cultivation,” aware all the while that victory “is beyond our reach.” All that he could offer in consolation, he told a hushed audience, was T. S. Eliot’s stern observation, “There are no lost causes because there are no gained causes.”[56]

The autumnal mood was maintained in The Unmaking of a Mayor. Buckley asserted that the conservative doctrine lacked “mass appeal.” Conservatism in America, he wrote, was a “force” rather than “a political movement.” He went so far as to declare that the Republican Party would not survive as “a major party,” a probability he deeply regretted for the alternative was likely to be a “congeries of third parties, adamantly doctrinaire, inadequately led, insufficiently thoughtful, improvidently angry, self-defeatingly sectarian.”[57]

However, Buckley’s prolonged lamentation was soon overtaken by events, including Ronald Reagan’s declaration that he would run for governor of California and the launching of Firing Line in April 1966. The weekly public affairs program pitted Bill Buckley against any and all liberals—and others—and would stay on the air for more than 33 years, setting a broadcasting record.

For all his pessimism, Buckley retained his belief that God knew what he was doing and that, in any case, we should be more concerned about where we ended up in the City of God than where we ended up in the City of Man. He often quoted the Russian poet Ilya Ehrenburg: “If the whole world were to be covered with asphalt, one day a crack would appear in the asphalt and in that crack grass would grow.”[58]

Buckley and Richard Nixon

The year 1968 was chaos from beginning to end, from the Communist offensive of Tet to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy to the near anarchy of the Democratic National Convention. Like China, America was going through a Great Cultural Revolution with the attempted annihilation of the Four Olds: old customs, old habits, old culture, old thinking. Nothing seemed safe or sacred.

Buckley and National Review carefully considered the 1968 presidential campaign, focusing on a practical question: Who was the most viable conservative candidate? Barry Goldwater had already endorsed Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan had been governor of California for little more than a year. Nelson Rockefeller was an impossibility for any right-thinking conservative. That left Nixon, whom Buckley admired as the man who had stoutly defended Whittaker Chambers against the liberal establishment and ensured that Alger Hiss went to jail.

Buckley was no longer the idealist of 1955, when he roundly criticized President Eisenhower’s “modern Republican” positions, but a pragmatist willing to support an anti-Communist moderate open to conservative ideas and influence. And so NR, with James Burnham as the writer, endorsed Nixon as a “competent, intelligent, experienced, professional politician” known for his “election-machine style of politics.”[59]

Nothing equals the anger of a woman scorned except, perhaps, the anger of a conservative who feels he has been betrayed. In 1971, Henry Kissinger’s secret trips to Communist China were revealed, and Nixon unveiled his New Economic Plan featuring wage and price controls. “We are all Keynesians now,” Nixon said in a bit of bombast sharply challenged by conservatives.

Twelve leaders of the Right, with William F. Buckley Jr. at the top of the list, announced that they were suspending “our support of the Administration.” Buckley’s core anti-Communism in particular caused him to take a strong public stand against an American President. And then there was Watergate. The affair, National Review said editorially, “has acquired a sour, rotting quality that can only be cleaned up by the truth…. [T]he Administration should purge itself of any person at whatever level whose relation to the Watergate was legally or morally culpable.”[60]

As with the Goldwater candidacy a decade earlier, Buckley was concerned about the negative impact of Nixon’s fate on the conservative movement to which he had devoted so much time and care.

By now there were four kinds of conservatives: classical liberals, traditional conservatives, anti-Communists, and New Right populists or social conservatives. After some hesitation, Buckley welcomed the last group, noting that Richard Viguerie and other New Right leaders had been key players in the formation of Young Americans for Freedom and were staunch anti-Communists.

A fifth variety now appeared, the neoconservatives, with whom Buckley, the master fusionist, would form a close relationship. Buckley recognized that the formidable brain power of the neoconservatives along with the burgeoning manpower of the New Right gave the conservative movement a powerful one-two political punch it had previously lacked.

If the 1970s were nearly the worst of times for conservatives—Watergate, Vietnam, Jimmy Carter—then the 1980s were the best of times because of the political success and leadership of Ronald Reagan. For Bill Buckley, it was possible, even for an ingrained pessimist like him, to talk realistically about shaping, not just stopping, history.

When Reagan won the presidency in a landslide and liberal pundits fumbled for explanations, columnist George Will wrote, “What happened in 1980 is that American conservatism came of age.” Speaking at National Review’s 25th anniversary dinner, Will said that 16 years before, Barry Goldwater had made the Republican Party “a vessel of conservatism” and NR had filled the vessel with “an intellectually defensible modern conservatism.” The principal architect of that achievement, he said, was William F. Buckley, “the Pope of the conservative movement, operating out of a little Vatican on 35th Street” in New York.[61]

Let me suggest a different metaphor: William F. Buckley Jr. was the Saint Paul of the conservative movement, proselytizing tirelessly across America, fighting the good fight against liberal heresies, exhorting and when necessary warning the conservative faithful to mend their ways, knowing that the race was not over even with the coming of the Reagan presidency.

Buckley was no longer a lonely champion in the lists but the spokesman—second only to Reagan—of a conservative phalanx out to change the direction of the nation and the world. Conservative ideas were no longer derided but accepted. Proposals like victory in the Cold War and a rolling back of the welfare state were no longer extreme but even mainstream.

Communism was no longer expanding but contracting. Capitalism was spreading from continent to continent, inspiring some exuberant conservatives to exclaim, “Now we are all Hayekians.” But, cautioned Buckley in an address about Hayek to the Mont Pelerin Society, “What we do not need is anything that suggests that human freedom is going to lead us to Utopia.”[62]

During a tribute to President Reagan in 1985 on the occasion of NR’s 30th anniversary, Buckley pointed out that the current issue discussed the Geneva summit, the war in Afghanistan, Sandinista involvement in Colombia, the attrition of order and discipline in the public schools, and the underrated legacy of Herman Kahn. Everyone in the audience, including the President, got the point: National Review and its editor were carefully monitoring the events of the day from a conservative perspective and providing the right answers when and as required.

Turning to President Reagan, Buckley offered this encomium: “What at National Review we labor to keep fresh, alive, deep, you are intuitively drawn to. As an individual you incarnate American ideals at many levels. As the final responsible authority, in any hour of great challenge, we depend on you.”[63]

One Reagan action that Buckley and National Review opposed was the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviets. Buckley feared the consequences of no land-based U.S. missiles in Western Europe in a “post-Reagan age.” Reagan reassured his fellow conservative privately that the United States would follow a policy of “trust but verify.” His position was verified when political forces, accelerated by the Reagan Doctrine, obliged Gorbachev to abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and give up the “leading role” of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Without the Communist Party there was no ideological rationale for the Soviet Union and its empire, which quietly expired in December 1991.

National Review’s 35th anniversary dinner in the fall of 1990 coincided with Bill Buckley’s 65th birthday, and as he had long planned, he announced his retirement—after 1,014 issues—as editor in chief. There were tears and exclamations of protest among those at the traditional black-tie banquet.

Do not despair, a smiling Buckley said he would not discontinue his newspaper column or Firing Line or public speaking or book writing. But prudence, that cardinal virtue, he said, required him to arrange for the continuation of National Review, which, “I like to think, will be here, enlivening right reason, for as long as there is anything left in America to celebrate.”[64]

When, in late 1995, National Review celebrated its 40th birthday, editor at large Bill Buckley took time to say a few words about the role of fusionism in the development of modern American conservatism. When NR was launched in 1955, he said, two traditions were at odds, although not with daggers drawn: the libertarian and the traditionalist. The former was “anti-statist, pure and simple.” The latter spoke of traditional values, calling for respect for our forefathers and mediating institutions such as the family, the church, and the courts.

Libertarian Frank Meyer was ultimately persuaded that “tradition was important to the good health of libertarian mores.” Traditionalist Russell Kirk acknowledged that the state was “the presumptive enemy of useful social energy, as the predictable obstacle to liberal progress.” The two schools came together in National Review, Buckley said, which “gave enthusiastic shelter to advocates of both.” The meeting of such minds as those of Meyer and Kirk “grew to be known as Fusionism and little fusionists were born and baptized from coast to coast.”[65]

Buckley went on to examine what history can tell us about the future of representative democracy—i.e., the United States of America. Is it certain? Is history on our side? He noted that Lincoln had questioned whether future generations would have as strong a “desire for freedom through self-government.”

Public support of Social Security and public willingness to accept the decisions of an activist Supreme Court suggest, he said, “a gradual impoverishment of genuine public sovereignty.” The collapse of Communism and a turning away from socialism in Western Europe were certainly encouraging, he conceded, but would “an acceleration of the historical process” take Americans “into a better world with reduced government or “to a kind of Orwellian transcription of democracy”?

We cannot be certain, Buckley inferred, but we do know that “history triumphant awaits the crystallization of an informed public intelligence seeking maximum human freedom.” The easiest way for history to take its cue, he said, impishly, “is to maintain its subscription to National Review.”[66]

At the magazine’s 50th anniversary dinner in 2005, Buckley reassured his listeners that he would not burden them with his analysis of “current discontents” (such as the Iraq War and the excessive domestic spending of the Bush Administration). He then alarmed them by referring to “my terminal appearance with you”—the operative word being terminal. He explained that he was stepping down as editor at large and turning over the ownership of the magazine to a board of directors.

While elated by the witness of National Review over the years and touched by the faith and tenacity of its friends, he admitted he was not sorry to be going. In fact, he took considerable satisfaction in his orderly retreat from “the old tempos,” including his duties as editor in chief of the magazine and host of Firing Line, public lectures, skiing, sailing, and even the harpsichord. Still, ever gracious, he recorded his gratitude that “NR had a voice over the past 50 years in affirming the durability of American ideas.”[67]

But that was far from the last word from the master of words. In a November 2007 interview, he remarked that the “conservative revolution” had “peaked” with Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. Since then and even before, he said, conservatism had forgotten the libertarian message of Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State, “the consequences of which we have yet to pay for.” While it is not fair to say that we have lost the war against the welfare state, Buckley argued, “it is correct to say that it’s a war that we need to continue to fight and concern ourselves with.”[68]

Approaching the end and knowing it, Bill Buckley still managed to write not one but two little books: memoirs about the two most influential conservative politicians of the 20th century, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

In Flying High, Buckley concentrates on the 1960s when Goldwater’s forthright enunciation of conservative ideas inspired thousands of young people to enter and stay in politics. The book is Buckley’s fond farewell to a politician who, refusing to compromise his principles, offered a stirring profile in courage and candor.

The Reagan I Knew includes private letters, recorded exchanges, and personal reminiscences on issues such the INF Treaty (Reagan kept reassuring Buckley that he had not gone soft on Communism) and Supreme Court nominees (Buckley urged the nomination of Robert Bork). Missing is Reagan’s warm “Happy Birthday” letter to Buckley, dated November 24, 1994, less than three weeks after the former President had informed the American people that he had Alzheimer’s. “As I get on in years and reflect back on those individuals who have meant the most to me throughout my lifetime,” Reagan wrote, “I am grateful for you and the many ways in which you have touched my life. Nancy and I are blessed to know you and you a friend.”[69]

Buckley saw his goals achieved, says longtime friend and colleague Daniel Oliver: “Communism defeated, free market economics widely understood if not widely enough practiced, and some sense that government could be, not the solution, but the problem.” Because of his life and work, says National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez, “conservatives will never be…lost in the wilderness.”[70]

William F. Buckley Jr.’s vision of ordered liberty shaped and guided American conservatism from its infancy to its maturity, from a cramped suite of offices on Manhattan’s East Side to the Oval Office of the White House, from a set of “irritable mental gestures” to a political force that transformed American politics.

Lee Edwards, Ph.D., is Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

[1]“Mike Wallace Interviews Fulton Lewis Jr.,” February 1, 1958, Post-Presidential File: Fulton Lewis, Jr., Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.

[2]Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (New York: Viking Press, 1950), p. ix.

[3]Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “The New Conservatism in America,” Confluence, December 1953, pp. 65–66.

[4]Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasion (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), pp. 262, 235.

[5]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 1996), p. 118.

[6]Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953), pp. 414–416.

[7] Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), pp. 471–473.

[8] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, p. 127.

[9] John B. Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 67.

[10] “A Call for an Indigenous Communist Party–I”, Yale Daily News, March 23, 1948 “For the Republican Conclave,” Yale Daily News, April 30, 1949 “An Easy Out,” Yale Daily News, November 21, 1949.

[11] “Needed: A Little Intolerance,” Yale Daily News, October 12, 1949 editor’s note, Yale Daily News, December 12, 1949.

[12] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 67 “For a Fair Approach,” Yale Daily News, March 9, 1949.

[13] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 75.

[14] William F. Buckley Jr., God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1951), p. 113.

[15] See Buckley’s recollections in William F. Buckley Jr., Miles Gone By (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing Co., 2004), p. 74.

[16] Ibid. WFB to Henry Regnery, September 1950, Regnery Papers, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

[17] “Willmoore Kendall,” in George W. Carey, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2006), p. 465.

[19] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, p. 146.

[20] WFB to Russell Kirk, September 14, 1955, Buckley Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University.

[21] Jeffrey Hart, The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2005), pp. 12–13.

[22] Buckley, Miles Gone By, p. 91.

[23] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, pp. 134–135.

[24] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 133.

[25] William F. Buckley Jr., “Publisher’s Statement,” National Review, November 19, 1955, p. 5.

[27] “The Magazine’s Credenda,” National Review, November 19, 1955, p. 6.

[28] The National Review Reader, ed. John Chamberlain (New York: The Bookmailer, 1975), p. 24 Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 141.

[29] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, p. 138.

[31] William F. Buckley Jr., Up from Liberalism (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959), pp. 5, 197.

[33] Frank S. Meyer, “A Man of Principle,” National Review, April 23, 1960, pp. 269–270.

[36] Lee Edwards, You Can Make the Difference (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1980), pp. 241–242.

[37] William F. Buckley Jr., “Remarks on a Fifth Anniversary,” reprinted in William F. Buckley Jr., Rumbles Left and Right: A Book About Troublesome People and Ideas (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963), pp. 85–89.

[38] Whittaker Chambers, “Big Sister Is Watching You,” National Review, December 28, 1957, pp. 594–596.

[39] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, pp. 144–145.

[40] “The Question of Robert Welch,” National Review, February 13, 1962, pp. 83–88.

[41] Linda Bridges and John R. Coyne, Jr., Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2007), p. 87.

[42] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 173.

[43] Bridges and Coyne, Strictly Right, p. 87.

[44] Lee Edwards, The Conservative Revolution: The Movement That Remade America (New York: Free Press, 1999), p. 128.

[45] See L. Brent Bozell, “Freedom or Virtue?” National Review, September 11, 1962, p. 181.

[46] Frank S. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1962), pp. 22–23, 27. See also George Nash’s brilliant summary of Meyer’s thought in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, pp. 159–161 et seq.

[47] Meyer, In Defense of Freedom, p. 165.

[48] The Founders’ Almanac, ed. Matthew Spalding (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Books, 2002), pp. 207–208.

[49] What Is Conservatism? ed. Frank S. Meyer (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), pp. 15–16 et seq. see also Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, p. 161.

[50] William F. Buckley Jr., “Frank S. Meyer: R. I. P.,” Washington Star Syndicate, April 15–16, 1972.

[51] Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, p. 273 emphasis in original.

[52] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 228.

[54] Edwards, The Conservative Revolution, p. 146.

[56] William F. Buckley Jr., “Remarks at the Anniversary Dinner,” National Review, November 30, 1965, pp. 1127–1128.

[57] William F. Buckley Jr., The Unmaking of a Mayor (New York: Viking Press, 1966), pp. 307–308.

[58] William F. Buckley Jr., On the Firing Line: The Public Life of Our Public Figures (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 448.

[59] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 279.

[60] Bridges and Coyne, Strictly Right, p. 147.

[61] Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., p. 435.

[62] William F. Buckley Jr., “The Courage of Friedrich Hayek,” in Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches (Roseville, Cal.: Forum, 2000), p. 233.

[63] William F. Buckley Jr., Remarks at NR’s 30th Anniversary Dinner, National Review, December 31, 1985, p. 132.

[64] William F. Buckley Jr., “Time to Go to Bed,” Let Us Talk of Many Things, p. 362.

[65] William F. Buckley Jr., “Standing Athwart,” National Review, December 11, 1995, p. 46.

[67] William F. Buckley Jr., Remarks at NR’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, October 6, 2005, National Review, December 19, 2005, pp. 18, 20.

[68] Bill Steigewall, “William F. Buckley—A Nov. 14, 2007 Interview,” at Townhall.com.

[69] Ronald Reagan to William F. Buckley Jr., November 24, 1994, Buckley–Reagan Correspondence, Offices of National Review. The letters have now been added to the Buckley Papers in the Sterling Library at Yale University.

[70] Daniel Oliver, “Bill Buckley: A Life ‘On the Right,’” remarks delivered at The Heritage Foundation’s 31st annual Resource Bank meeting, April 24, 2008, reprinted in The Insider, Summer 2008 Kathryn Lopez, “Gratitude,” National Review Online, November 26, 2008.

National Review's Bad Conscience

National Review has a fraught relationship with National Socialism. In recent years, the magazine has taken to likening liberals and socialists to fascists and Nazis. In a much-derided article published last week, correspondent Kevin Williamson claimed that Senator Bernie Sanders is leading “a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was largely wiped out in the Holocaust.” Later in the article, Williamson added that Sanders is not a “national socialist in the mode of Alfred Rosenberg or Julius Streicher,” but this proviso couldn’t undo the implication that Sanders and his supporters are modern day Hitlerites. Nor is Williamson alone: His National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg authored a lengthy tome in 2008, Liberal Fascism, making essentially the same argument about the supposed links between modern day progressives and the early 20th century European far right.

While self-evidently absurd as a line of argument, the Williamson/Goldberg thesis is a fine example of projection, especially interesting because of their magazine’s long history of both publishing pro-fascist arguments and also resenting any accusations of being pro-Nazi. As the new documentary The Best of Enemies reminds us, the relationship between National Review and Nazism was once the stuff of national television drama in a notorious debate between Gore Vidal and National Review founder William F. Buckley. In August 1968, during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Buckley compared New Left youths carrying pro–Viet Cong flags to pro-Nazis. Vidal responded by saying, “As far as I’m concerned, the only sort of pro- or crypto-Nazi that I can think of is yourself.” This set off Buckley, who went bugged eyed and threatened Vidal, saying, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face.”

Best of Enemies does a fine job of recreating the Vidal/Buckley clash as a TV spectacle, but doesn’t really adequately explain why Buckley—who was a veteran debater and kept his cool in heated exchanges with adversaries like Noam Chomsky and John Kenneth Galbraith, who were just as formidable as Vidal—became unhinged at that particular moment. A better explanation can be found in the history of National Review itself.

As John Judis documents in his 1988 biography of Buckley, the conservative pundit’s father and namesake, William F. Buckley Sr., was an anti-Semite and fascist sympathizer who tried his best to pass along his ideas to his large brood. In 1937, four of the Buckley kids burned a cross outside a Jewish resort. The eleven-year-old William Buckley Jr. didn’t participate in the cross burning but only because he was deemed too young to participate and by his own account “wept tears of frustration” at being left out of the hate crime. At this point the young Buckley agreed with his father’s worldview, and would argue, in the words of a childhood friend, that “Bolshevik Russia was an infinitely greater threat than Nazi Germany.” The Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco was a hero in the Buckley household, celebrated as a bulwark against the red menace.

As he came into adulthood Buckley gradually outgrew the anti-Semitism of his father. While the young Buckley did intervene to break up the engagement between his Jewish friend Tom Guinzburg and his sister Jane, he also came to see political anti-Semitism as toxic. After forming National Review in 1955, Buckley’s relationship to the European right was complicated: He continued to admire Franco as a hero but drew a distinction between fascism (permissible) and outright Nazism (beyond the pale). National Review worked hard to distance itself from openly anti-Semitic publications: In 1958 Buckley circulated a memo declaring that no one who served on the masthead of The American Mercury could also serve on the masthead of National Review.

In the 1955, National Review had employed a troubled young right-winger named George Lincoln Rockwell to sell subscriptions. When Rockwell emerged as the leader of the American Nazi movement, Buckley took a two-pronged approach, publicly rebuking him and also privately working to find him psychological and religious counselling. But in 1961 editorial, after Rockwell was met by counter-protesters during a march in New York City, National Review criticized the “mob of Jews who hurled insults at him. Some lunged at him, and were kept from Rockwell’s throat only by a cordon of policemen. Are we ‘against’ the Jews whose pressure kept Rockwell from exercising his constitutional right to speak, and who would, if given the chance, have beat him bloody? Of course.”

It would be a mistake to read this editorial as a defense of free-speech absolutism of the sort that led the ACLU to support the right of Nazis to march in Jewish neighborhoods. For one thing, National Review was adamantly opposed to that sort of free-speech absolutism, and often defended McCarthysim. Moreover, “mob of Jews” wasn’t that editorial’s only target: It lambasted the civil rights movement for their “theatrical” challenge to Jim Crow in the south, a response which was “met, inevitably, by a spastic response. By violence.” During this period, National Review strongly opposed the Civil Rights movement and its tactics of civil disobedience. In effect the National Review position was that American Nazis had a right to march in New York, but American blacks should refrain from exercising their first amendment rights in the South.

There were limits to the anti-Nazism of Buckley and National Review, which became ever clearer when Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Nazis’ final solution, was captured by the Israelis in Argentina in 1961 and brought to trial in Israel. In 1961, National Review described the Eichmann trial as a “lurid extravaganza” which would produce such dire results as “bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of Communist aims, [and] the cultivation of pacifism.” (The idea that Jews in 1961 had an obligation to forgive Nazis is worth pondering).

As the late historian Peter Novick noted in his definitive book The Holocaust in American Life,

The general circulation magazine that outdid all others in the frequency and vehemence of its attacks on the trial was William F. Buckley’s National Review. Its first commentary on Eichmann was noteworthy in that, at a time when all the other media were reporting his millions of victims, it spoke of Eichmann’s being “generally believed to have a primary hand in exterminating hundreds of thousands.” Two weeks later the magazine returned to the subject, attacking the “pernicious” trial that was “manipulat[ing] a series of ex post facto laws … to give assassination a juridical rationale.” National Review‘s Eichmann coverage then turned to anti-Semitic ‘humor.’ The magazine presented the imagined conversations of a vulgar Jewish couple: “Sylvie” spoke to “Myron” about Eichmann (and gold, and hairdressers) in their Central Park West apartment while “doing her nails … on an enormous crescent-shaped, gold-on-gold, French provincial Castro convertible.” A bit later, the National Review devoted an editorial to how the Communists were profiting from the “Hate Germany movement” being furthered by the Eichmann trial.

National Review’s position was not so much pro-Nazi, as anti-anti-Nazi (in parallel with the anti-anti-racism the magazine also adopted). The arguments the magazine made weren’t that Nazism was good, but that a focus on anti-Nazism kept attention away from the real enemies: socialists and communists. National Review founding editor James Burnham, a seminal influence on the magazine, expressed this sentiment in his 1964 book The Suicide of the West, where he claimed that “the Nazi menace is kept on the public stage by journalists, historians, movie directors, TV producers, novelists, preachers and demagogic politicians, with a prominence that has no objective historical justification.” (It’s perhaps worth remembering that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as a CIA analyst, Burnham had advocated that the United States help organize East European militias behind the Iron Curtain, a policy that often involved working with quondam Nazis collaborators.)

This anti-anti-Nazism was combined with outright enthusiasm for fascism. In 1957, Buckley declared that “General Franco is an authentic national hero.” James Burnham echoed this sentiment in a 1975 obituary declaring “Francisco Franco was our century’s most successful ruler.” This was one of two celebratory obituaries the magazine devoted to Franco. The other was written by F.R. Buckley (one of Buckley’s brothers) who sang Franco’s praises as “a Spaniard out of the heroic annals of the nation, a giant. He will be truly mourned by Spain because with all his heart and might and soul, he loved his country, and in the vast context of Spanish history, did well by it.”

In his 1987 book From This Moment On, National Review editor Jeffrey Hart penned an equally effusive tribute to Benito Mussolini. “His 1922 blackshirt march on Rome brought to an end a period of political deadlock and leftist riot,” Hart asserts. “His domestic achievements were substantial. . There was repression, the administrating of doses of castor oil, but no Gulags and Belsens or Cambodian-style slaughter. . Mussolini was probably better read than any other national leader of his time. . Mussolini’s leadership made even proletarians take some pride in being Italian, and his addresses, broadcast across the Atlantic, were listened to with respect in American-Italian households. . Mussolini stood 5 feet 6 inches and had a massive, handsome head. . Mussolini liked to interrupt his working day several times with sexual intercourse, often standing up and in his uniform, a very rapid performance.” According to Hart, Mussolini made only “a single error in judgement”: allying with Hitler in 1940.

So why did William F. Buckley react so badly to Vidal’s jibe about being a crypto-Nazi? Why are National Review writers like Kevin Williamson and Jonah Goldberg so eager to prove that liberals are the real fascists and Nazis? The most likely answer is that they have a bad conscience: they know that the history of their political movement has been compromised by pro-fascist and anti-anti-Nazi sentiment, and they want to deflect attention from that toxic legacy.

William F. Buckley Jr. vs. James Baldwin: A racial showdown on the American dream

Baldwin and Buckley were almost too perfect as sparring partners. They were about the same age and grew up in large families less than 100 miles from one another &mdash Baldwin in the &ldquoghetto&rdquo of New York&rsquos Harlem neighborhood and Buckley in a mansion with dozens of rooms in Sharon, Ct. Both hit success as writers in their 20s and were regarded as the most erudite thinkers in their respective milieus.

By 1965, Buckley was the editor in chief of the conservative magazine he had founded, National Review. And Baldwin was a highly praised writer of novels, plays and essays with a new book, &ldquoAnother Country,&rdquo soon to be released in paperback in the U.K. He was at the height of his stardom.

But that January, Baldwin was also recovering from a serious viral infection in the South of France. As a U.K. book tour was being planned for the next month, his agent warned the publisher&rsquos press guy not to plan too much, for the already slight man was still weak.

The publicist ignored him, Buccola wrote, filling nearly every minute of the tour with events. And he had a very big idea &mdash a debate at the famed Cambridge Union. Malcolm X had spoken at Oxford weeks before to much ado, and the publicist hoped to repeat that success.

The student organizers set about finding a worthy speaker to challenge Baldwin, and began inviting segregationist senators. All turned them down.

Then they asked Buckley, who was conveniently already in Europe. His wife had broken her leg in a skiing accident, and Buckley was tending to her bedside in Switzerland. But, perhaps tempted by the prospect of exercising his college-debate skills, he decided he could leave her briefly for an evening of argument.

A week before the debate, Baldwin&rsquos agent caught wind of the idea and sent a blunt cable to the publicist: &ldquoHave advised Baldwin strongly against participating in debate with Buckley. Please cancel it.&rdquo

It&rsquos unclear why or how, Buccola wrote, but that order was ignored, and the show simply went on.

The New York Times carried an item on the &ldquowild applause&rdquo for Baldwin the next day. And, a few weeks later, it reprinted both men&rsquos speeches nearly in full. It was March 7, 1965, the same day an Alabama sheriff attacked peaceful protesters in Selma, Ala., in what became known as &ldquoBloody Sunday.&rdquo

Personal life [ edit | edit source ]

According to the biographical information distributed by the CIA, Buckley was "an avid reader of politics and history" and "a collector and builder of miniature soldiers." The latter hobby enabled him to become a principal artisan in the creation of a panorama at the Lexington Battlefield Tourist Center near his native Bedford, Massachusetts. The press release also said he owned an antique shop and was an amateur artist and a collector of fine art. It called him "a very private and discreet individual."

Buckley, William Frank (1881&ndash1958)

William Frank Buckley, lawyer and oil entrepreneur, was born in Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas, on July 12, 1881, the fourth of eight children of John and Mary Ann (Langford) Buckley, of Irish ancestry. In the fall of 1882 the family moved to San Diego, Duval County, where John Buckley engaged in merchandising, politics, and sheep raising he also served several elective terms as Duval County sheriff.

Growing up in a Spanish-speaking community, William Buckley became proficient in the language and a close friend of Spanish-speaking peoples, a quality he retained all of his life. One of his early influences was the widely educated parish priest, Father John Pierre Bard, of the Church of San Francisco de Paula in San Diego. After finishing school in San Diego, Buckley taught at a country school near Benavides, where all but a few of the students used the Spanish language. According to records at the University of Texas at Austin, he enrolled there in 1899 and was a student at the university until 1905, when his picture appeared with the law class of 1905. Because of his command of the language he received advanced credit in Spanish in his first years there and was an assistant to a professor in the Romance-languages department. During this time he was also, along with his sister, Priscilla, a Spanish translator in the General Land Office. With others he initiated the Austin chapter of the Delta Tau Delta national college fraternity and later became one of its most liberal financial supporters. He was a devout Catholic and, along with others, purchased property near the university for the Newman Club. When his father died in 1904 he was the oldest surviving son, and he undertook the care of his mother, whom he moved to Austin, along with his two brothers and two sisters, to a small house on the corner of Lavaca and Nineteenth streets Buckley later built a large house there (now the site of Cambridge Tower), where his mother lived until her death in 1930. He received a B.S. degree in 1904 and an LL.B. degree in 1905, was quizmaster in the School of Law, and was a member of the John C. Townes Law Society. In 1905 he was elected editor of the University of Texas yearbook, The Cactus (1906). Buckley received his license to practice law in Texas on June 8, 1906, and he was elected a member of the Texas Bar Association (see STATE BAR OF TEXAS) in 1909.

He went to Mexico City in 1908 and passed law examinations there, and he and his brother Claude, also a lawyer, acted as counsel for many of the most important American and European oil companies doing business in Mexico. In 1911 they established their own law office with another brother, Edmund, in Tampico, Tamaulipas. By 1914 William F. Buckley had turned his law practice over to his brothers so that he might engage in real estate and the leasing of oil lands. He acquired, improved, and sold land around the city of Tampico, and he founded the Pantepec Oil Company of Mexico. The Mexican Revolution was at its height in 1912, 1913, and 1914, and after the invasion and takeover of Veracruz by the United States Marines in April 1914, President Woodrow Wilson offered the post of civil governor to Buckley, who indignantly refused the appointment because he was not in sympathy with Wilson's Mexico policy. Later that year Buckley served as counsel for the Mexican government at the ABC Conference at Niagara Falls, where Argentina, Brazil, and Chile acted as mediators between the United States and Mexico. In December 1919 he testified before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Relations as an expert witness on conditions in Mexico. Knowing the language, the people, and the nature of revolutionary activities there, Buckley believed that internal Mexican policies such as those approved of by American "specialists" would destroy American investments in Mexico. In 1920 he assisted in the foundation of the American Association of Mexico, with offices in Washington and New York, which lobbied for the interests of United States businessmen in Mexico. Because of Buckley's opposition to the government of Gen. Álvaro Obregón and his support of the antigovernment revolution of Manuel Peláez, Buckley was expelled from Mexico in 1921. In January 1922 he gave a full report of his expulsion to the secretary of state of the United States and urged that his country not recognize the Obregón government until certain agreements had been reached between the two countries.

In 1924 Buckley was invited back to Mexico by President Plutarco Calles and returned for a visit, but in that year he transferred his Pantepec Oil Company to Venezuela. There, in a largely undeveloped oil region, he fully committed himself to oil exploration. As one of the first to use the "farm-out" system, Buckley made agreements with some of the largest oil companies, whereby the companies would take over the cost of exploring, drilling, and developing and would in turn share the profits from oil and gas produced on his concessions. He made his first major deal, with Standard Oil, in the 1930s when a large oilfield was found on Pantepec's Venezuelan concessions. Other major producers followed. During his entire career Buckley was primarily interested in unexplored territory, and in 1946 he began a diversification of his oil holdings with the forming of separate companies. Operations assumed an international scale with the leasing of land in Canada, Florida, Ecuador, Australia, the Philippines, Israel, and Guatemala.

In 1922 Buckley gave to the University of Texas his extensive files covering the tumultuous years of Mexican history from the time of his stay in that country. Included in the gift were thirty-five scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and 300 folders containing copies of Buckley's confidential reports, annotated letters, statements, interviews, and other papers. In 1925, over the opposition of the university's librarian, Ernest W. Winkler, the entire collection was sent to Washington, D.C., for use by the State Department's Mixed Claims Commission (United States and Mexico). It was finally returned at the request of the University of Texas in 1929. The papers are housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Buckley was married to Aloise Steiner of New Orleans in 1917. A widely read man and always concerned with learning, he closely supervised the trilingual education of their ten children during the years the family lived in Paris, London, and the United States. In the 1920s he purchased the family estate, Great Elm, in Sharon, Connecticut, and later, for a winter home, the estate Kamschatka in Camden, South Carolina. Several of William and Aloise Buckley's children became national figures: James Buckley was elected to the United States Senate, and William F. Buckley, Jr., became a nationally known writer, editor, and speaker for the conservative view in politics. Fergus Reid Buckley, another son, is a journalist and novelist. Priscilla Buckley pursued a career in journalism and was managing editor of the National Review for decades. Patricia Buckley was a free-lance book editor in 1986. Members of the family also continued in active operation of the Buckley oil business.

The Dark Side of William F. Buckley, Jr.

Few public intellectuals infamous for defending McCarthyism and championing right-wing dictators would be popular and recurrent guests on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Few pundits who opposed civil rights for African Americans and South African blacks would be asked to host the longest-running public affairs show in public television history.

William F. Buckley, Jr. was the exception.

Though Buckley was wrong on nearly every important issue of his day—McCarthyism, civil rights, voting rights, segregation, AIDs, Apartheid, the Vietnam War, the Soviet threat to America—many conservatives and liberals look back fondly to those pre-Trumpian days when the suave Yale dandy ruled over conservatism with a mailed fist.

They shouldn’t. Buckley may have been gentlemanly, charming, erudite, urbane and a world class debater, but his ideas were vicious and cold-blooded. Beneath the St. Christopher medal and the Brooks Brothers suit lurked the soul of a sadist.


At the age of 29, Buckley and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell penned a ponderous apologia for Joe McCarthy, the paranoid US senator responsible for destroying the careers of more than 2,000 government employees. Book reviewer Dwight Macdonald called McCarthy and His Enemies “a laborious piece of special pleading which gives the effect of a brief by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft on behalf of a pickpocket caught in the men’s room of the subway.” In McCarthy and His Enemies, Buckley suggested the ruined lives of these so-called “security risks” and “policy misfits” was a small price to pay for the increased “security” which resulted from the witch hunts (this despite the fact that no evidence of subversion was ever discovered). Besides, Buckley maintained, employment in the civil service was a privilege, not a right, therefore the burden of proof of innocence rested, not with the government, but with the accused. When it came to the noble cause of eradicating the cancer of communism, a few thousand innocent victims, and the trampling of due process, was a small price to pay.

Once McCarthy began to take on individuals his own size, the junior senator from Wisconsin was quickly exposed for the hysterical fraud that he was. Secretary of State George Marshall, McCarthy alleged, was guilty of treason, while his Marshall Plan was the brainchild of CPUSA chief Earl Browder. Worse, Marshall made “common cause with Stalin on the strategy of the war in Europe and marched side by side with him thereafter.”

Buckley happily joined McCarthy in besmirching Marshall, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his plan to reconstruct Western Europe’s economy, and the man hailed by Winston Churchill as the “organizer of victory” for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II.

“Marshall no longer rides as high as he once did in the esteem of his countrymen … To the extent that McCarthy, through his careful analysis of Marshall’s record, has contributed to cutting Marshall down to size he has performed a valuable service …”

Buckley’s book was a case study in bad timing. McCarthy and His Enemies came out at approximately the same time as Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now television specials and the Army–McCarthy Hearings, both of which discredited McCarthy and turned much of the nation against him. In short succession, McCarthy’s colleagues in the US Senate took the extraordinary step of condemning the senator for his “inexcusable,” “reprehensible,” “vulgar and insulting” conduct “unbecoming a senator.” Within three years, McCarthy was dead of alcoholism at the age of 48.

McCarthyism was one of the few pet ideologies Buckley did not renounce. When Regnery republished McCarthy and His Enemies in 1996, Buckley suggested that “a gradual and painful process of historical rectification” would soon vindicate McCarthy’s crusade. At the time of Buckley’s death in 2008, he was still waiting for his idol’s vindication.

Civil Rights

Buckley founded the conservative journal National Review in 1955, and soon shifted his attention from his hysterical fear of communism to mounting a passionate opposition to public school desegregation, voting rights, and the Civil Rights Act based on what he saw as the “cultural superiority of white over Negro.”

Buckley’s racism could be overt, but more often it was dressed up in the guise of states rights. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was “one of the most brazen acts of judicial usurpation in our history, patently counter to the intent of the Constitution, shoddy and illegal in analysis, and invalid in sociology.” While “support for the Southern position rests not at all on the question of whether Negro and White children should, in fact, study geography side by side, but on whether a central or a local authority should make that decision.”

To Buckley, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which struck down segregation laws, banned employment discrimination and prohibited discrimination in federal programs, was nothing more than useless and meddling federal legislation that sought to “instruct small merchants in the Deep South on how they may conduct their business.” His opposition to the Civil Rights Act put him at odds with most Republicans who overwhelmingly supported the legislation (GOP congressmen voted 138-34 in favor), and squarely on the side of racist southern Dixiecrats.

“In the South in 1964,” wrote Kevin Schultz, “despite all the images of dogs attacking black children, of violence against black citizens seeking to vote, of hatred bubbling up against black students enrolling in schools, Buckley didn’t think there was much racism in the South. He saw such images as simply an effort to preserve civilization.”

As for the 1965 Voting Right Act, guaranteeing blacks the right to the ballot will result in “chaos” and “mobocratic rule,” Buckley said.

Eight years earlier, he’d laid out his objections to giving African Americans the vote in his most infamous essay, “Why the South Must Prevail,” in which he declared the white race the most “advanced” and therefore most fit to govern.

The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.

Buckley was careful to differentiate himself from the worst racists, who held that blacks were biologically or genetically inferior. Buckley freely admitted there were “no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities.” The problem was not biological, but cultural and educational. That said, he had no interest in increasing cultural and educational opportunities for blacks by segregating schools.

As matters heated up in the South, Buckley stood arm and arm with George Wallace and Bull Connor. Violence in the service of perpetuating segregation was an absolute necessity. “[R]epression is an unpleasant instrument, but it is absolutely necessary for civilizations that believe in order and human rights,” he wrote. As the civilized world watched in horror at the televised scenes of brutality from the American South, Buckley declared that the South did not need “massive infusions of northern moralism.” Besides, “[i]t is for each man’s conscience to decide in the specific case whether segregation is being practiced morally or immorally,” he said.

Finally, in 1963, National Review condemned the bombing of a black Birmingham church that killed four African American children, but only after wondering at first “whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur—of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro,” since the bombing was so harmful to the white southerners’ cause.

Buckley was unable to understand why, after so many generations in the Land of the Free, African Americans had not lifted themselves out of poverty. That they had not could only mean there was something inherently inferior with their race. Basically he’d adopted the simplistic reasoning (though not the language) of Archie Bunker. White immigrants pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Why can’t blacks? Buckley willfully ignored the long history of slavery, institutionalized racism and the countless laws and social prohibitions that so often prevented African Americans from rising up from their “backward state” and realizing their full potential. One example was the GI Bill, the government program which almost single-handedly created a thriving white middle class. The bill was “written under Southern auspices [and] deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow,” wrote Ira Katznelson, in When Affirmative Action was White. Either Buckley was ignorant of the insidious effects of slavery, racism and Jim Crow or he chose to ignore them. The more charitable view is that he was ignorant.

This dismissive attitude came back to haunt Buckley in his 1965 Cambridge University debate with James Baldwin. The resolution before the house was “Has the American Dream been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?” Baldwin mopped the floor with Buckley in part by showing how much of America’s wealth and greatness had come via slave and Jim Crow labor.

I picked the cotton. I carried it to the market. I built the railroads under someone else’s whip, for nothing, for nothing. The Southern oligarchy which has still today so very much power in Washington, and therefore some power in the world was created by my labor and my sweat and the violation of my women and the murder of my children. This, in the land of the free, the home of the brave…I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built the country.

Buckley once again relied on the old bootstrap argument, ignoring the fact that it’s hard to pull oneself up by the bootstraps when the government gives boots only to whites. Buckley was routinely booed by the young men of Cambridge and Baldwin easily carried the day, by a motion of 544 to 164.

The Vietnam War

Until the undeclared war in Vietnam, the Democratic Party was America’s war party. Democrats had dragged the US into overseas conflicts in The Great War, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, while conservative anti-imperialists often objected vociferously to any and all foreign entanglements.

Buckley sought to change all that. Especially with the lost cause in Vietnam.

Despite his reputation for complex thought, Buckley’s reasons for championing US intervention in Vietnam were simplistic. “We had to,” he told Playboy. “The South Vietnamese were not prepared to defend themselves.” What’s more, the US had “a moral and legal commitment to give aid to the South Vietnamese in resisting aggression, pursuant to the protocol that extended the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) treaty to that area.” Vietnam, however, was never a SEATO member, and the US was the only nation that seemed to have any interest in the failed and insignificant treaty.

Buckley casually dismissed concerns about civilian deaths in Vietnam, and found it regrettable that, faced with overwhelming public opposition, the US halted the bombing of North Vietnam. He was highly skeptical about the events surrounding the Mai Lai massacre, asking why there weren’t more massacres if the US was so indifferent to Vietnamese civilian lives? When presented evidence of more massacres, Buckley said they were no more remarkable than the rise in murders in Manhattan, though those murders presumably were not committed on behalf of the US government.

Toward the end of the war, he bemoaned the fact that the US had not used nuclear weapons in Vietnam “in a perfectly routine way.” After all, the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam was easy to defend on the morality scale, he said.

Buckley so relished the idea of using nuclear weapons he advocated using them against China’s nuclear production facilities in 1965. If you’re keeping score, that’s Japan, China and Vietnam which would have been nuked over a twenty-five year period if Buckley had had his way.

The Women’s Movement

The 1970’s were a particularly difficult time for Buckley. The Vietnam War was lost. Nixon had resigned in disgrace. Abortion was legalized. Meanwhile, the big progressive causes of the Seventies were the Women’s Movement and the Equal Rights Amendment. Buckley didn’t seem to have his heart in these fights. According to biographer Heather Hendershot, he just didn’t get feminism. Phyllis Schlafly, now there was a smart, beautiful woman. But those harridans who refused to shave their legs and take their husband’s last name and joined radical movements were as inexplicable as a David Lynch film.

Buckley maintained that the condition of women had greatly improved over decades and should continue to improve. But gradually, he said. What was the hurry? Besides, the Women’s Liberation Movement and the National Organization of Women were radical and revolutionary, filled with Marxists and free lovers and other reprehensible creatures. As for the ERA, it was unnecessary. There were adequate laws on the books in the various states that protected women from discrimination. Those gals who were fired for, say, being pregnant, would just have to suck it up for another decade to two.

Besides, what do women know? Writing about abortion rights in his book Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist, Buckley maintained that “women who…procreate illegitimate births are not the best judges of right and wrong.” Rather, that is the government’s role. An odd position for a libertarian journalist, to say the least.

In 1973, Buckley returned to Cambridge University, this time to debate feminist author Germaine Greer. This time the resolution before the house was “This House supports the Women’s Liberation Movement.” As usual, Buckley decried not women’s liberation, but the movement itself, which he found to contain radical ideas. (This from a man whose solution to virtually every military conflict was to lob nuclear weapons at the enemy.) Just as Baldwin mopped the floor with Buckley eight years earlier, so did Ms. Greer, who was declared the winner by a motion of 546-156 in her favor. Buckley later wrote that [Greer] trounced [me]. … Nothing I said, and memory reproaches me for having performed miserably, made any impression or any dent in the argument. She carried the house overwhelmingly.”

There was, however, one bright spot for Buckley in the Seventies. The rise of right-wing dictatorships in Latin America.

While Buckley could be hard on socialism, he was squishy on fascism. On several occasions Buckley praised Hitler’s “soft” ally Francisco Franco Bahamonde, the fascist dictator of Spain, calling the Generalissimo “an authentic national hero.” Wrote Buckley in a 1957 letter: “[Franco] is not an oppressive dictator. He is only as oppressive as it is necessary to be to maintain total power.” Meanwhile Buckley swooned over Spain’s National Catholicism, part of the ideological identity of Francoism.

Buckley, however, saved his real admiration for the various right-wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone, in particular that of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. “He saw the Chilean regime, like Franco’s, as a test case for instituting Catholicism and capitalism through authoritarian means,” wrote the journalist Bécquer Seguín.

Pinochet came to power in 1973 following a US-backed coup which overthrew the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende (“who was defiling the Chilean constitution and waving proudly the banner of his friend and idol, Fidel Castro,” wrote Buckley). When Allende nationalized the copper industry—which had been controlled by US companies—and used the proceeds to fund education, land redistribution and health care for the poor and working class, his days were numbered. The Nixon Administration immediately set to work sabotaging Chile’s economy by instituting a crippling economic embargo guaranteed to cause misery to ordinary working class Chileans. Meantime Pinochet promised Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he would install pure, unregulated free market capitalism.

The coup was an overwhelming success for Pinochet’s cronies, American corporations and the University of Chicago School of Economics which longed for a real-time laboratory in which to build a capitalist utopia from scratch.

While enormous wealth was created during Pinochet’s dictatorship, mostly by selling off the public sector, it came at a terrible cost. “[B]y the early 80s, Pinochet’s [Milton] Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialisation, a tenfold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns,” wrote author Naomi Klein. “They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisers and nationalize several of the large deregulated financial institutions.”

Not to mention the terrible cost in lives. When Chileans objected to the military coup, the massive unemployment, and their subsequent loss of civil and human rights, 40,018 of them were imprisoned and tortured. Another 3,065 were murdered. An estimated 200,000 Chileans fled into exile.

Buckley’s magazine played a vital role over many years to whitewash and obscure Pinochet’s crimes, wrote The New Republic. “[Buckley and his editors] did this during a period when they were actively in cooperation with Pinochet’s regime.”

Shortly before the coup, Buckley hired Pinochet ally, Nena Ossa, to cover Chile for National Review. Post-coup, Ossa was appointed to the junta’s Cultural Department. Ossa and Buckley’s longtime friend, public relations guru Marvin Liebman, worked hard to discredit Pinochet’s democratic critics like the Chilean politician Orlando Letelier, who was assassinated by a car bomb planted by Pinochet’s agents in Washington DC in 1976. Not surprisingly, Buckley’s magazine leapt to the dictator’s defense claiming Pinochet had nothing to do with the murder. Besides, the magazine said, Letelier was an international terrorist. A Cuban spy. Or a Soviet agent. In fact he was none of the above as Buckley was well aware. As Pinochet’s involvement became more and more clear, Buckley maintained that “there are highly reasonable, indeed compelling, grounds for doubting that Pinochet had anything to do with the assassination.”

In 1974, Buckley helped Lieberman create the American-Chilean Council (ACC) to spread pro-Pinochet propaganda. Pinochet’s government became a major contributor to ACC, which used some of that funding to fly Buckley’s staff to Chile on all-expense-paid junkets resulting in glowing puff pieces about Pinochet’s regime which, to quote Inquiry, “put a pleasant face on murder.”

In 1978, the US Justice Department found that through the ACC, the Pinochet regime engaged in a secret and illegal propaganda campaign aimed at making congressmen, journalists, academics and the American public more sympathetic to Chile’s military dictatorship, while a US federal judge ruled that ACC was an illegal, unregistered lobby for the junta.

So how did it all work out? A 2013 CERC poll found that only 18 percent of Chileans believe Pinochet saved the country from Marxism, while 63 percent think the US-backed coup destroyed democracy.

Meanwhile there were plenty other repressive regimes that could use the services of a well heeled and well connected apologist.

Buckley’s support of South Africa’s Apartheid regime mirrored his opposition to civil rights and voting rights in the US. In the 1960’s, Buckley claimed the whites were entitled to “pre-eminence in South Africa” because Dutch colonials arrived before the Xhosa and Zulu peoples. Buckley had only to crack a world history book to see that this bit of revisionist history was patently false.

Meanwhile Buckley pleaded for empathy and understanding—not for the persecuted black South Africans, but for their oppressors. “We should try at least to understand what it is [the white government is] trying to do, and deny ourselves that unearned smugness that the bigot shows,” he said.

When, by the early 70s, such overt and obvious racism proved untenable, Buckley switched tactics. South Africa’s Apartheid regime was an indispensable bulwark against the old bogeyman of communism and therefore a necessary evil. Allowing blacks basic human rights, such as the right to vote, would lead to an electoral victory for the African National Congress, which was chummy with communists. South Africa would then fall to the Marxists and anarchy and the collapse of civilization would ensue. Rather than increase sanctions, as the US was doing with Castro’s Cuba, National Review suggested constructive engagement with South Africa’s Apartheid regime. “If the outside world really wants to shake apartheid,” said the editors, “the only practical way is to sup with the devil: step up trade, increase all forms of contact . . . send out lecturers who will refrain from lecturing South Africans on how to run their own affairs.”

Apartheid officially ended in 1991. Three years later the ANC’s Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Despite this historically inevitable turn of events, the nation has remained doggedly democratic and a bastion of free market capitalism.

In the late 1980s Buckley turned his attention to bashing AIDs victims.

In an infamous 1986 op-ed piece in The New York Times, Buckley stated it was a “fact” that the AIDS epidemic is “the special curse of the homosexual.” He then proposed laws which mandated that infected individuals could marry only if they agreed to sterilization, in addition to mandatory universal testing by insurance companies. The echoes of Auschwitz were loud and clear when Buckley declared that “everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.” It was similar outrageous sentiments that caused Gore Vidal to call Buckley a “cryptonazi” during their infamous 1968 televised debate, to which Buckley responded with the worst slur he could think of, calling Vidal a “queer.”

Buckley continued to maintain as late as 2004 that “If the protocol had been accepted, many who caught the infection unguardedly would be alive. Probably over a million.”

Second Thoughts

Time and again Buckley deemed violence and dictatorship as necessary to combat the evils of communism or counteract uncivilized blacks’ demands for rights. And yet, no sooner would Buckley howl for blood, then he would succumb to second thoughts. Indeed, for a conservative with moral certainty, his views were oddly fluid. Some progressives, like the New Republic’s Jeet Heer, even praised his “life-long capacity to change, adapt and learn.”

Change is not a word Buckley was partial to. And yet times inevitably caught up with the conservative godfather and he was grudgingly forced to admit that he’d been wrong about most of the fundamental pillars of his political philosophy. Ultimately Buckley backtracked on the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Segregation, the Iraq War, the Drug War and, to a lesser extent, The Vietnam War and AIDs.

Sometimes it took tragic events of historic proportions to get Buckley on board with civilized opinion. His opposition to civil rights softened after white supremacists set off a bomb in a Birmingham church on Sept. 15, 1963, murdering four black girls. From calling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “unqualified as a litmus of the Southern Negro’s discontent,” he went on to support a national holiday honoring Dr. King.

Later, as he stared down the grim reaper, Buckley even had second thoughts on the “socialist” regimes in Latin America, toward which he felt he had been “too doctrinaire or monolithic” in his attitude, while the Vietnam War, he told a biographer, cured him of the “rollback” policy on communism he earlier supported. Buckley never mentioned sorrow or regret over the victims of the policies he propounded in his magazine, his television show and his syndicated newspaper column. He never expressed regret over the disappeared Chileans or the dead American GIs in Vietnam. Just that he might have got it slightly wrong. About the only issue on which he did not change his mind was McCarthyism.

Yet today, many people on both left and right long for Buckley’s presence, as though he were a great moderating influence on American society.

Buckley “policed the boundaries of conservatism, casting out extremists, bigots, kooks, anti-Semites, and racists,” read a recent piece in The New York Times.

“Today, the Republican Party lacks a Buckley figure to purge these ‘kooks,’” wrote Alvin Felzenberg in Politico.

“Even if you are opposed to [the conservative] movement, it is right to praise [Buckley] for his thoughtful televisual interactions with liberals,” said MIT professor Heather Hendershot. “Sadly, this kind of reasoned political debate is sorely lacking in today’s TV landscape.”

You could say that. Or you could say that the last thing the GOP and the US need is another radical, cold-blooded ideologue like William F. Buckley, Jr.

Chris Orlet is the author of the novel In the Pines: A Small Town Noir.


Largest crowd ever participates in event to recognize James L. Buckley and Virginia James for their contributions to the conservative movement

National Review Institute hosts its Seventh Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner as a “Gala at Home,” recognizing the Honorable James L. Buckley for Leadership in Political Thought and Virginia James for Leadership in Supporting Liberty.

PRINCETON, NJ, October 5, 2020 — National Review Institute recognized the Honorable James L. Buckley and Virginia James for their contributions to the conservative movement at the William F. Buckley Jr. “Gala at Home” Prize Dinner.

A small gathering was hosted at the home of NRI Board Chairman Peter J. Travers in Princeton, New Jersey. The event was partially live-streamed, along with pre-recorded and creative videos, to NRI friends and supporters across the country. Some participants hosted private dinner parties serving specialty cocktails and champagne and dressed for the occasion in their black-tie best.

In its seventh year, the William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner has become a marquee celebration for the conservative movement. Held in a different city each year, the 2020 gala was planned to take place in New York City. When it became apparent that a large in-person event was not an option, the organization embraced an interactive virtual format that included “fan cams” with greetings from supporters and fans across the country and world.

Serving as dinner co-chairs were Edwin J. Feulner, founder and past president of The Heritage Foundation Leonard A. Leo, co-chairman and former executive vice president of the Federalist Society and NRI Board of Trustees Chairman Travers. In total, over 600 friends and supporters tuned in for the live event.

The William F. Buckley Jr. Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty, which recognizes conservative philanthropy, was awarded to Virginia James in recognition of her longtime and generous support of NRI and NR magazine, in addition to her many philanthropic contributions to other worthy organizations that are part of the broader conservative movement. An investor from Lambertville, NJ, Virginia is a notable philanthropist and serves as president of the Hickory Foundation, which supports dozens of organizations dedicated to economic freedom, education, and the arts. She is a strong advocate for limited government and is co-founder and chairman of the Club for Growth, a leading free-enterprise advocacy group. Her philanthropy has enabled numerous organizations to succeed and grow, energizing and uplifting the movement that Bill Buckley did so much to lead.

The William F. Buckley Jr. Prize for Leadership in Political Thought was awarded to The Honorable James L. Buckley. Fifty years ago this fall, Jim cast off a successful career as president of an oil exploration company to run for the U. S. Senate from New York. In a historic conservative victory, Jim became, as his brother anointed him, “the sainted junior senator from New York.” His victory is seen by many conservatives as a bridge from the Goldwater campaign of 1964 and Bill’s mayoral race in 1965 to the Reagan landslide of 1980. After his term in the Senate, Jim served as Under Secretary of State and as President of Radio Free Europe. In 1985, President Reagan nominated Jim to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit, on which his distinguished service made him one of the few people in American history to have served in all three branches of the federal government. Through all of this, Jim was unable to make any enemies. As Bill famously wrote of his older brother, Jim was “a benign presence before whose phlegmatic charm razors are blunt and arrows detumesce.”

James Buckley’s acceptance remarks included a somber warning about the state of our nation: “We have become a nation of constitutional illiterates,” Senator Buckley warned. “Few Americans have any understanding of the degree to which the Constitution’s safeguards are being whittled away. So we need to remind them of their existence and hammer home the urgent need to bring the administrative state under effective constitutional control. That will be anything but easy, but it has to be done.”

Senator Buckley concluded that he could think of no organization better able to meet this challenge than National Review Institute. “I urge you to focus all your considerable resources on reminding Americans of the constitutional sources of their blessings and of the utter seriousness of the present threat,” he said. “You have your marching orders. God bless you all.”

In addition to the honorees’ remarks and videos highlighting their impressive careers, the audience was treated to a performance by pianist Larry Perelman. Larry entertained at William F. Buckley Jr.’s dinner parties in New York City, and gave a special performance on Bill’s piano at Chairman Travers’ home.

National Review editor in chief Rich Lowry also moderated a panel with NR writers Andrew C. McCarthy, Kevin D. Williamson, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Charles C. W. Cooke. The writers discussed the important issues that our honorees have championed including limited government, federalism, and economic freedom.

Prominent virtual and in-person attendees included other notable National Review writers such John O’Sullivan, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Jay Nordlinger, Richard Brookhiser, John McCormack, and Kyle Smith.

Concluding the dinner, NRI Board Chairman Travers thanked guests for attending and for helping to raise over one million dollars in funds for the Institute. Guests continued the celebration via virtual “After-Party” reception rooms.

For his entire life, Bill Buckley sought to preserve and buttress the foundations of our free society. To honor his achievement and inspire others, NRI’s Board of Trustees annually award the William F. Buckley Jr. Prizes for Leadership in Supporting Liberty and Leadership in Political Thought. These awards honor their namesake and those who champion the principles Buckley advanced during his lifetime.

In addition to adapting to a virtual format to host this gala, NRI has been hosting successful virtual events since March 2020.

National Review Institute is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), journalistic think tank, established to advance the conservative principles William F. Buckley Jr. championed and complement the mission of National Review magazine, including by supporting and promoting NR’s top talent. NRI was founded by Bill Buckley in 1991, 36 years after launching National Review. In 2015, National Review, Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Institute.

National Review Institute
19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701 New York, NY 10036 | www.nrinstitute.org
For more information, contact Miranda Melvin, Director of External Affairs | [email protected] | 571-302-0353

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