In Memoriam: Robert L. Bartley

Robert L. Bartley, who died December 10 at the tragically early age of 66, was one of the greatest journalists in American history. His discreet 1972-2002 direction of the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Page, which is in effect a Little Magazine piggy-backing on what for years was the country's only national daily newspaper, will be studied as long the trade of opinion-molding matters—and as long as Ronald Reagan's twin triumphs, winning the Cold War and ending the world's inflationary slide to socialism, continue to resonate.

Bartley and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page played a real role in those triumphs. Unfortunately, he also played an equally decisive role in the subsequent tragedy: the degeneration of the American conservative movement into careerist Republican boosterism, curiously combined with a fanatical and dishonest commitment to mass immigration.

Why did this happen? Certainly there was a sociological aspect. Bartley was the last in a long tradition of Midwestern executives at the Wall Street Journal. He presided, apparently quite happily, over its capture by the same urban, East-coast-oriented, elite-educated types who run the rest of U.S. Big Media. Under these circumstances, the Editorial Page's increasing "neoconservatism" was the closest thing available to its former, no doubt unfashionable, heartland conservatism.

But also the failure may also have been Bartley's. I've told before the circumstances—discreditable, I believe, to him—in which Bartley came to observe to me that "I think the nation-state is finished." It's unfortunate that Bartley never engaged in public debate on this vital, post-Cold War issue. I suspect that he never really thought it through. For a journalist, however, this shy and apparently gentle man was surprisingly uncomfortable with argument.

Bartley played a key role in my own career, asking me to come down from Canada to be a summer "guest" on the Editorial Page in 1978. At one time, I saw him regularly in the small world of New York conservative journalism. Yet at the end we had drifted so far apart that I realized only very recently that he, like my own family, was threatened by the terrible curse of cancer. I made a mental note to write him a letter of commiseration. I bitterly regret that I did not.

Our condolences to his family, both personal and—despite our grave disagreements—intellectual.

Peter Brimelow is Editor of VDARE.COM and author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster (1995), which the Wall Street Journal reviewer described as the "natterings of a neo-nativist." Click here to read Bartley's reaction to Brimelow's 1992 National Review "Time To Rethink Immigration?" cover story and Brimelow's response.