OK, William F. Buckley Helped Create The Modern Conservative Movement—But What Did It Conserve?

[See also
William F. Buckley, Jr., RIP—Sort Of By
Peter Brimelow

The New York Times`

[February 27, 2008] of William F. Buckley
notes that that the late founder of National Review
had written a book in defense of Joseph McCarthy, had

supported the segregationist south
, and once wrote:

detected with AIDS
should be tattooed in the upper
forearm to prevent common needle users, and on the
buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other

Despite this matter-of-fact
cataloging of some of his politically incorrect moments,
the Times obituarist had nothing but good things
to say about Buckley:

Buckley`s greatest achievement was making
conservatism—not just electoral Republicanism, but
conservatism as a system of ideas—respectable in liberal
post-World War II America. He mobilized the young
enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964,
and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes
captured the Oval Office."

How did Buckley do this? English
professor and literary critic

Hugh Kenner
is cited as crediting Buckley for "rejecting

John Birch Society
and the other kooks who passed
off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism"
saying that were it not for Buckley, there "would
probably be no respectable conservative movement in this

Yet the question must be asked: Could
a "respectable" conservative make jokes about

, let alone defend the segregationist
South or

Joe McCarthy?
Certainly not in National Review

Thus, this past November, National
ran a book review by

neoconservative Ron Radosh

longtime conservative journalist Stan Evans` Blacklisted By History:The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight against America`s Enemies

defending the late Senator. [See

Stan Evans` reply,
courtesy of

Ann Coulter,
who has been

attacked herself
for defending Senator McCarthy.]

And alleged support for segregation
was one of David Frum`s

for purging the

"unpatriotic conservatives"
out of the respectable conservative
movement. But

did not cite a single paleoconservative who
said anything like this 1957 NR editorial
(unsigned but listed in  Buckley`s archives as his):

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 prevail numerically? The
sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so
entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced
race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce
statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White
over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that
cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy


The South Must Prevail
August 24, 1957]

Even George Wallace was not making
this frank argument by the time he ran for president in
1968. Yet, just a decade after Buckley defended
segregation, he

attacked Wallace as a bigot

Today, even the slightest praise for
pre-Civil Rights South is
a big no-no for
National Review
. The magazine even

took credit for creating the debacle
around Senator
Trent Lott`s

few nice words
about the 100-year old

Strom Thurmond.
A simple

google search
of National Review will find
dozens of articles attacking Lott for his even more
tenuous support for segregation. Buckley himself said he

no sympathy
for Lott`s predicament because

"…whatever else is to be said about the old South,
segregation was an ugly feature of it, and that to think
back poignantly about how it was in those golden days
requires, if you are a public figure doing the
nostalgia, the reiterated expulsion of features of that

In the process, the

(and even libertarian) opposition to the
1964 Civil Rights Act

voiced by
1964 GOP Presidential nominee

Barry Goldwater
, and more recently by

Richard Epstein
, was apparently forgotten, even
though NR`s editors had only to consult their own

As for homosexuality and AIDS, in

Ramesh Ponnuru
wrote a long and twisted

to support giving "benefits" to
homosexual couples. The magazine has

about the triumph of "compassionate
in the shape of Bush`s

African AIDS
Funding giveaways. Buckley famously

called Gore Vidal a "queer"
on national
television in 1968 and continued to defend his slur
decades afterwards. But when Ann Coulter

was pilloried
for using a

similar slur against John Edwards
—though in a much
less vitriolic way than Buckley—Jonah Goldberg

it "dumb and distasteful."

There are many other view points,
such as defending the national-origins principle in
immigration policy, criticizing

Martin Luther King,
supporting white rule in


South Africa
, discussing

racial differences in intelligence
, repealing
the New Deal,
supporting anti-sodomy laws, opposing
nation building, calling for the abolition of the
Federal Reserve, etc, that were once welcome or even
editorial policy in the magazine—some as recent as a
decade ago—but would now put one on the other side of
what Buckley called "exercises
of exclusion.

As the Times piece noted, the
magazine was "founded in
part to oppose"

Dwight D. Eisenhower from the right. But


"Operation Wetback"
, attacked the

"Military-Industrial Complex"
, and said that
granting blacks some political rights did not mean they
should have social equality or "that
Negro should court my daughter"
. Concepts like
"woman`s liberation"
or "gay rights" were
then unthinkable even to liberals.

My point is not that we must embrace
these positions, but merely that what Buckley

"the prevailing structure of taboos"
has moved far to the Left from what it was when he
founded National Review.

If the conservative movement is
considered successful, it is not because it has moved
the debate to the Right. Instead of standing

"athwart history yelling stop",
Buckley and
National Review were the first to attack those
who had not got the memo about history moving on. Even
on issues like

Social Security,
Buckley made it clear that there we


"What conservatives are
going to have to get used to is that certain fights we
have waged are, quite simply, lost. It is fine, in our
little seminars, to make the case against a federal
Social Security program, but it pays to remind ourselves
that nobody outside the walls of that classroom is going
to pay much attention to our Platonic exercises."

God Bless Godlessness
, NRO, January 30, 2001]

How did this happen? Like many right
wingers of his generation, Buckley accepted that the
threat posed by the Soviet Union was so great that all
other domestic concerns needed to be subordinated to it.
In 1952, before he founded National Review, a
young Bill Buckley

wrote in
the Catholic Magazine The Commonweal

We have got to accept Big Government for the
duration–for neither an offensive nor a defensive war
can be waged, given our present government skills,
except through the instrument of a totalitarian
bureaucracy within our shores . . . . And if they deem

Soviet power

menace to our freedom
(as I happen to), they will
have to support large armies and air forces, atomic
energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and
the attendant centralization of power in
Washington–even with Truman at the reins of it all.[PDF]

 From the very beginning, Buckley and
the conservative movement as a whole were willing to
accept Liberalism if Liberalism was willing to support a
militaristic defense of Cold War. When the New Left
started attacking the "Establishment",
conservatives instinctively defended it, and in the
process welcomed in the more hawkish Cold War
Liberals—the neoconservatives—who eventually took over
the movement.

By the time the Cold War had reached
its "duration", there was

nothing left to conserve.

William F. Buckley does deserve
credit for helping create the modern conservative
movement. But the conservative movement does not deserve
credit for conserving America.

Marcus Epstein [send
him mail
] is the founder of the
Robert A Taft Club
and the executive director of the
The American
Team America PAC
. A selection of his articles can be
here. The
views he expresses are his own.