The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

In Defense of William F. Buckley Jr.

Posted on | September 30, 2016 | Comments Off on In Defense of William F. Buckley Jr.

“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)

Never trust anyone who speaks ill of their own parents. Probably everyone goes through that adolescent phase of thinking their parents are idiots, but mature reflection — when we understand the difficulties of adult life, and have become parents ourselves — ought to temper our judgment, and curb any temptation to criticize our elders. Furthermore, people who malign their own parents are in essence testifying against themselves. “The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree,” after all, and if your parents were such awful people, what should we expect from you?

In 2009, Christopher Buckley published in the New York Times some anecdotes about his late father, William F. Buckley Jr., that were not entirely flattering. Among other things, Buckley the Younger accused his father of hogging the TV remote and changing channels at a whim. “If it were so, it was a grievous fault. And grievously hath Caesar answered it.”

Now, I rise to speak in defense of William F. Buckley Jr. not only because I might also be guilty of hogging the remote — “my remote,” as I call it — nor even to remind my own children of their duty of filial piety, although these are certainly important considerations. God forbid that, after I’m mouldering in the grave, any of my numerous progeny should think to profit by badmouthing me in print, as Christopher Buckley has done to his deceased father. Oh, sure, perhaps it wasn’t malice that inspired Buckley the Younger to tell these tales about the Old Man, but great reputations can be undermined as much by carelessness as by spite, because who knows what use a man’s enemies might make of the discovery that, e.g., the deceased Great Man hogged the TV remote?

To see how this works, examine “William F Buckley — A Case Study In Narcissistic Personality Disorder” by The Anonymous Conservative, who makes of Buckley’s remote-hogging a symptom of psychiatric illness and/or bad character. It would perhaps suffice to discredit this claim to point out that the anonymous author uses the phrase “the Cuckservative Establishment,” and asserts:

Conservatism is merely an expression of the K-selected psychology. It is invigorated by the disasters produced by liberalism, as the horrors liberals cultivate have their effects on the minds of the populace. Nobody can create it through positivity, any more than you can create a high tide with a water pump. You can massage things at the edges, humiliate a liberal here and there, even hold the line on one issue or another with subtle threats of force in places, as with guns, but in the grander scheme, r and K are like the tides.

What fresh Hell is this? For those unfamiliar with the subject of population demographics, let me offer this brief bit from Wikipedia:

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment in r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment in K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments.
The terminology of r/K-selection was coined by the ecologists Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson based on their work on island biogeography; although the concept of the evolution of life history strategies has a longer history.

E.O. Wilson and “sociobiology” have exercised an influence among certain secular (or as they would call themselves, “scientific”) conservatives, who wish to marshal Darwinism in support of various ideas that liberals generally dismiss as falling into the category of “racism.” My own experience of being hate-listed by the SPLC for daring to treat these subjects as worthy of inquiry should suffice to prove that I am no “Establishment cuckservative” fearful of liberal disapproval, nor am I prone to retreat from any defensible truth. However, I am also skeptical of speculative theory, which is what Darwinism is, as it goes beyond the facts of nature to imagine a remote past in which random accidents accumulated into “progress” that led pond scum to become something more than pond scum. At any rate, while “r/K selection theory” might be a useful tool with which to explain various natural phenomena, I hesitate to endorse how The Anonymous Conservative has taken the ball and run with it as “The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics”:

As the images flowed through my brain, I saw one side, brave, strong, and honorable, the other, groveling, weak, and pathetic. The presence of one side enhanced the fitness of the population, while the persistence of the other deteriorated it. One was genuinely good and created magnificence, and one was not. The daring and the cowards. The patriots and the traitors. The Warrior and the Hippie. The Capitalist and the Communist. The stoic NRA member, and the easily frightened and insecure anti-gun pussy. The Marine, and the Womyn’s studies major at UC Berkeley. Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals. Complexity in adaptation and a devolved simplistic fecundity. Evolution and Devolution. The production of a great society, and the decline into chaos of a collapsing society. It all made sense. I thought back to the microbes, and the conditions which produced them, thought of r/K theory, and all of this was borne in my mind.

As I say, fear of liberal disapproval plays no part in my work, and insofar as this application of “r/K” actually contains truth, I would defend it. Yet employing this as a pretext to attack the reputation of the late William F. Buckley Jr. leads to rather bizarre claims:

People like Buckley only slow the ascent of conservatism, by trying to demonize the leading edge of the movement on behalf of their mentally damaged fellow travelers on the left. Driven by the urge to assuage their own fears of not being in control of the flow of events, they are seeking one thing. If they are not in control, someone else must be, and that someone else must be the smart person.
Notice the analogies between the narcissist’s behavior, and that of the modern Cuckservative right. People are happy in America. Things are good. What do the Cucks innocently support? Importing floods of 69 IQ foreigners into the nation, who have no hope of ever assimilating. Importing people who cannot create even a semblance of freedom in their home countries, let alone protect it from leftists here. People who come from cultures where nepotism and corruption are so endemic to their culture that even if the US artificially imposes democracy and freedom in their home nation, they have no ability to maintain it themselves. People who come to the US in search of free resources, provided by government. People who vote by margins of 70 or 80% for the liberal’s promises of free resources provided through theft from the productive. People who kill innocent Americans and destroy the nation’s unity through divisions of language, and culture, and moral philosophy.

No one can accuse me of wanting to import “floods of 69 IQ foreigners into the nation,” etc., and I’m quite sure William F. Buckley Jr. never supported any such scheme. The question of how to fix our broken immigration “policy” (which in truth is no policy at all) has bedeviled the conservative movement for the past 30 years. The Right seems to be caught between (a) rank-and-file opposition to open borders, (b) the Chamber of Commerce crowd’s appetite for cheap labor, (c) sentimental fools who get all misty-eyed while quoting Emma Lazarus and invoking their great-grandfather’s arrival at Ellis Island, and (d) the Republican Party’s predictable cowardice when accused of “racism.”

As someone who has spent more than two decades in conversation with leading minds of the Right — including the so-called “alt-Right,” some of whom owe me personal favors, and vice-versa — I abhor the kind of internecine warfare that goes on between various factions of the conservative movement. Years ago, I started joking that I should write a history of these conflicts which I proposed to entitle First, They Came for Mel Bradford. If you don’t get that joke, I won’t bother you with an explanation of how Bradford’s appointment to a position in the Reagan administration was sabotaged with the assistance of George F. Will, among others. Nor will I explain why in recent months I’ve thought of an imaginary sequel to that story that I propose to title Sam Francis Could Not Be Reached for Comment. In the seemingly interminable wars between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives, the neocons have engaged in a lot of dishonorable backstabbing to gain and maintain their predominant influence within the GOP, while the paleocons have engaged in too many self-defeating tactical blunders. Rather than to rehash all these ancient grievances, however, my purpose here is to defend Buckley’s reputation against the preposterous accusation that he “slow[ed] the ascent of conservatism.” Most of Buckley’s peers and comrades — including people I had the opportunity to know, like M. Stanton Evans, Paul Weyrich and Phyllis Schlafly — have joined him in the Great Beyond, so that they are unavailable to testify in his defense. Therefore, I will attempt briefly to rescue Buckley’s good name from the posthumous smear of being an “Establishment cuckservative.”

The modern American conservative movement began in the 1940s in reaction to (a) FDR’s New Deal and (b) the threat of Soviet Communism. These were separate dangers that were nevertheless in some way related, given how the Alger Hiss case exposed the way Soviet agents had penetrated the federal government during Roosevelt’s presidency. We could recite a long roster of names — inter alia, Owen Lattimore, Harry Dexter White and Henry Wallace — to explain why what liberals called “McCarthyism” arose in the late 1940s and early ’50s. William F. Buckley Jr.’s first contribution to the anti-Communist cause was his 1951 book God and Man at Yale, which exposed how this Ivy League institution, generally believed to be a bastion of conservatism, was in fact well on its way to becoming quite the opposite. Buckley (helped by his mentors, Willmoore Kendall and Frank Chodorov) demonstrated that Yale was betraying its original commitment to Christianity, and was also promoting left-wing political and economic ideas. Buckley did not claim that Yale was being taken over by godless Communists, but he did show that the university was failing to teach students how and why they should oppose godless Communism. Probably no book in the 20th century caused quite as much of a firestorm as did God and Man at Yale.

Buckley was accused of being a crypto-fascist and his book was metaphorically compared (by Frank Ashburn in the Saturday Review) to the burning cross at a Klan rally. Despite this vilification, Buckley had truth on his side and, as we look back across the span of more than six decades, the accuracy of his assessment is all the more remarkable. Now that Yale actually is being run by godless Commies, we can point to Buckley’s timeless classic and say, “See? We told you so.”

It was not Buckley’s intention to make himself the leader of a movement, but what happened was that the movement’s demand for leadership more or less required Buckley to step into that role. While there were many great minds at work in the project of crafting an intellectual response to the challenges facing America in the 1950s, no one else had the distinct combination of traits that Buckley brought to his job as founder of National Review. On the one hand, Buckley was full of the youthful impudence necessary to mock the reigning pieties of liberalism, while at the same time he had a profound reverence toward traditional values of faith, freedom and family. At a time when Republicans were embracing the moderate “go-along-to-get-along” attitudes of the Eisenhower administration, Buckley and National Review stood for a real system of conservative principles. Buckley’s conservatism included (but was not limited to) opposition to the Welfare State in domestic policy, and an unflinching hostility toward Communism. However, as we look back on that era, we must remember how the grand drama of the Cold War overshadowed every other consideration in American politics. Probably no one under age 40 today has any notion of the seriousness of the Soviet menace and what a tremendous feat it was for Buckley and others to organize the West’s victorious strategy in that historic contest.

Let it be said that I may here be giving Buckley too much credit for his role as de facto intellectual leader of the conservative movement that ultimately elected Ronald Reagan president and, in consequence, forced the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “Evil Empire.” Knowing that many other people contributed to that success, and not wishing to diminish the role of others by exaggerating Buckley’s eminence, still I feel the greater danger is in not giving Buckley enough credit for what he did.

Too easily do the young forget what their ancestors accomplished, succumbing to the belief that historic events were somehow inevitable. However, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.” Confronted with the crisis of the late 20th century, Buckley was not content to do nothing, and if it is wrong to give him too much credit for the success of the conservative movement, so would it be wrong to blame Buckley too much for the movement’s failures over the past 25 years. Certainly there are legitimate grounds on which to criticize Buckley. No one in public life is exempt from criticism, but when the subject is someone so directly involved with a historic success, it behooves us not to be nitpicky about their faults and errors. Never will I forget that night in 1989 when I watched live on CNN what seemed to me a miracle — the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that answered the prayers of many millions of freedom-loving people around the world.


How much credit does William F. Buckley Jr. deserve for the success of the conservative movement that rallied Americans to stand firm against Communism, to elect Ronald Reagan and support his anti-Soviet strategy, and thus to lead America to victory in the Cold War? However you answer that question, you cannot say Buckley’s contribution was minor, and I think everyone who loves liberty owes a certain debt to the man who once dared to stand athwart history, yelling Stop.

Now shut up, you kids, and hand me back my remote.



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