As we exited
St. Patrick`s Cathedral after William F. Buckley`s
memorial Mass on April 4, I noted that two enormous
banners advertising the
200th Anniversary of the
Archdiocese of New York hung from the rear
English, the other in
I had to smile at the poetic justice, as I walked
down the aisle behind
John J. Miller, National Review`s head
cheerleader for immigration. I am quite sure that he
was oblivious to the significance of it.
It had seemed very appropriate when an Establishment
Henry Kissinger walked to the altar to deliver the
eulogy for William F. Buckley. The two were more than
good friends, as Kissinger told the audience, but were
like-minded as well.
Chambers had once written that the Hiss Case was
patterned on the
Book of Jonah
Old Testament. I was very interested in this idea,
and in the possibility that Chambers had
committed suicide, and wanted to discuss the subject
further with Buckley. We had a fascinating conversation
about Chambers and I learned a lot from it. But Buckley
insisted that Chambers did not kill himself and that
God`s failure to smite the pro-Hiss forces was the
reason for Chambers oh-so-close identification
with the prophet Jonah.
I disagreed – there was more to the matter and I knew
We then we drifted off the subject, and began to
discuss the other Great Books of conservatism (besides
Chambers` Witness), such as Russell Kirk`s The Conservative Mind,
Richard Weaver`s Ideas Have Consequences. I
decided to ask him about John Judis` criticism of
him—that he had never written a great book (Judis,
William F. Buckley: Patron Saint of Conservatives).
Buckley squirmed, and replied: "Well, I`ve never
really considered myself an original thinker".
It was then that I realized that Buckley was (as
Peter Brimelow has
argued) a very insecure man who didn`t have a very
high opinion of himself. It reminds me of what he once
Bill Rusher—"I don`t think I have a very powerful
mind, but I do think I have a very quick one" (cited
in Rusher`s How To Win Arguments).
Eventually, I developed an interpretation of Chambers
that was very different from the one Buckley presented
to me and eventually published it in
[The Cry Against Nineveh: A Centennial Tribute to
PDF]. While Buckley conceded that my view of
Chambers was correct, and congratulated me on it, I also
got the sudden feeling that this man who was old enough
to be my grandfather had become jealous of me. It was
weird. Very weird.
When Buckley spoke at a White House gathering
commemorating Chambers` 100th birthday in April 2001, he
got up and read an altered version of his old
Esquire piece on Chambers—one of the few Buckley
essays I admire. [The End Of Whittaker Chambers (PDF)]
Except in this speech, he unequivocally said that
Whittaker Chambers had killed himself. National
published this speech soon after it was given. And
my essay, which Buckley had already read, and in which I
make the case that Chambers very likely committed
suicide, had yet to come out.
Nevertheless, it became obvious to me that the
architect of the conservative movement, despite his
sophistication and exceptional breeding, was a very
ordinary man. Moreover, I sensed that his greatest fear
is that people would eventually realize it.
I no longer wondered then, as I once did, why
purged such genuine conservative talents as
Joseph Sobran and
John O`Sullivan. A man like William F. Buckley did
not enjoy the risk of being upstaged.
However, there is a more profound flaw in Buckley`s
conservatism that did not occur to me until I attended
his Memorial Mass. I believe I now better understand how
the man who helped pilot the conservative movement`s
ascent could also be such a factor in its decline.
It has always seemed to me that preserving the
“little platoons” of society (as
Edmund Burke put it) should be a high priority of
conservatism. And it is obviously discouraging to watch
faux conservatives cheer
as the little platoons of society
crack under the stress of Third World immigration.
Indeed, many such conservatives were in attendance at
Buckley`s Memorial Mass.
However, I don`t think Buckley ever had any affection
for the little platoons of society. It was not something
he understood. I also don`t think he was being
ecumenical when he socialized with jet-setting
globalists like Henry Kissinger or John Kenneth
Galbraith. Buckley was simply one of them. Such people
are far removed from small town America and see no need
to maintain its integrity. Indeed, Buckley was in his
70s when he attended his first American baseball game
invitation of the ACLU`s
Ira Glasser) and, presumably, did not notice that
national pastime has been gradually
Coincidentally, in the church near me sat near
Russell Kirk`s widow. She often tells the story of
how Buckley was dumbfounded that Kirk could
live and work in the
tiny town of Mecosta, MI. He simply could not
appreciate how Kirk could love the little platoon of
which he, but not Buckley, was a part.
Matthew Richer (email
him) is a writer living in Massachusetts. He is the former American
Editor of Right NOW magazine.