William F. Buckley—”Unpatriotic Conservative”?
Well over a year ago,
David Frum unleashed an unpleasant gob of spit in
National Review accusing a number of veteran
conservative writers (including me) of being
"unpatriotic conservatives" [NRO,
March 19, 2003] because we opposed President
Bush`s war with Iraq.
Today Mr. Frum ought to rewrite his
article. The founder and editor of National Review
William F. Buckley Jr., has declared that he would
not have supported the war either had he known then what
he knows now.
Mr. Buckley`s confession came out
in the New York Times last week, when he
announced his retirement from the magazine that, in its
first issue of November 19, 1955, boasted it would
"stand athwart history and cry stop." [National
Review Founder to Leave Stage, June 29, 2004, By
David D. Kirkpatrick.]
Today, nearly fifty years later, it
conspicuously failed to do so, but Mr. Buckley is to
be congratulated on at least having the intellectual
honesty to acknowledge he was wrong about supporting
history`s unfortunate double time into Iraq.
"With the benefit of minute
hindsight," he told the Times, "Saddam
Hussein wasn`t the kind of extra-territorial menace that
was assumed by the administration one year ago. If I
knew then what I know now about what kind of situation
we would be in, I would have opposed the war."
That makes Mr. Buckley as much of
an "unpatriotic conservative," by Mr. Frum`s
Chronicles magazine, Robert Novak, me or any of
the other unusual suspects he lumped into the
The only difference is that we
didn`t have to wait until more than 800 Americans and an
untold number of Iraqis were dead, billions of dollars
wasted, and half the planet despising us to know what
Nevertheless, if Mr. Buckley`s
confession is honest, though a bit overdue, it`s not
terribly typical. Thanks in no small part to his
contributions in recent years,
neoconservative hysterics like Mr. Frum and the
lightweight kiddy-cons Mr. Buckley has handpicked to
run his magazine have virtually destroyed the real right
that Mr. Buckley himself helped kick off back in 1955.
Indeed, that`s a large part of the
reason the left has come to regard Mr. Buckley so
National Review for decades
was the major and sometimes the only voice of serious
conservatism in the country, and for a while it did
indeed cry stop at the oncoming freight train of the
future. Mr. Buckley assembled the leading conservative
thinkers and writers of his generation to issue the
Burnham, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver,
Whittaker Chambers and others.
Most of them today have still not
won the recognition they deserve, and one reason they
haven`t is that neoconservatives have rejected and
ignored them and their works—not infrequently with Mr.
Indeed, looking at what Mr. Buckley
himself has done in the last couple of decades, it`s
hard to resist the view that it was the men he
originally brought together at his magazine rather than
his own mind and pen that made National Review
the intellectual and political success it was.
As his colleagues and editors died
off—several of them prematurely—Mr. Buckley failed
either to replace them or take up their legacies. After
they were gone, he seemed to forget most of what they
had tried to impart. His own efforts started
wandering—into spy novels and travel memoirs that
were strikingly forgettable and today are all but
Since at least the 1980s, Mr.
encouraged the alliance of real conservatives with
the neocons and has done little if anything to pull the
newcomers in the proper direction.
Instead, he at least acquiesced in
and often promoted the dilution and distortion of
conservatism the neo-cons were injecting.
The Frum article last year is a
case in point. Nowhere in it did Mr. Frum come even
close to proving his claim that the anti-war right has
"made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist
antiwar movements in this country and in Europe" or
that "some of them explicitly yearn for the victory
of their nation`s enemies," and had he been a bit
more specific as to who exactly he was talking about
here, he might have enjoyed a libel suit.
Nevertheless, Mr. Buckley allowed
these charges to be published in the magazine he
Today he says the people Mr. Frum
smeared were right all along.
An apology is more than overdue.
William F. Buckley Jr. brought many
gifts to American conservatism, and much of what all
conservatives today know and think could never have
flourished without his efforts.
It`s his tragedy and that of the
movement he helped found that they finished up riding on
the caboose of the very train they once vowed to halt.
CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
[Sam Francis [email
him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection
of his columns,
America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The
Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available
Americans For Immigration Control.
for Sam Francis` website. Click
here to orderhis monograph,
Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American
Political Future and
Glynn Custred`s review.]