William F. Buckley’s death two weeks ago generated the usual
avalanche of glowing tributes and commentary. Every major newspaper
repeated the usual stale anecdotes of the suave and sophisticated National
Review founder and raconteur. Newsweek featured Buckley
on the magazine’s
cover. The day after Buckley’s death The
four separate items on him: a front-page obituary, Henry Allen’s
appreciation in the “Style” section, an op-ed by Mona Charen,
and a newspaper editorial that credited him for turning a movement
that lacked “intellectual respectability” into an “influential
conservative intellectual establishment.”
According to legend, Buckley defined the modern conservative movement.
He served as the guiding force in consolidating articulate conservative
intellectuals with the launch of National Review in the mid 1950s.
In essence, he redefined the Flynn-Taft isolationist Old Right — the
post–New Deal Right — that over the years morphed into
a politically correct form of conservatism. The gist of recently published
commentary suggests that had Buckley not arrived on the scene, the
post–New Deal Right would be dominated by bumbling, unsophisticated
misfits and deranged kooks!
Buckley’s launch of National Review admittedly was a pivotal
event for providing an early outlet for the views of an eclectic group
of conservative writers. As J. David Hoeveler Jr. notes in American
Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, “He brought a measure of cohesiveness
to a disparate group of dissenters from the liberalism that dominated
the American intellectual community.” National Review became
an outlet for thoughtful conservative writers, such as Mel Bradford,
James Burnham, M. StantonJames J. Kilpatrick, Russell Kirk, Joseph
Sobran, and Richard Weaver.
However, the amorphous and fluid intellectual trajectory of National
Review over the years — its inconsistency on civil rights and
the immigration issue — ultimately proved problematic for the
publication and the larger conservative movement.
As a political force that Buckley helped to forge, the transformation
of conservatism from maverick to establishment status compromised principled
positions on topics that by today’s standards are beyond taboo
for polite society. Controversial or provocative commentary, some of
which defined the early contents of National
Review, would gradually
disappear with the rise of the publication’s celebrity status.
Any sustained analysis of racial differences, the impact of racial
integration on American society, or the overreach of civil-rights legislation
is now rendered beyond the pale.
Over the course of his life, Buckley had reached celebrity status
by recasting “conservatism” in acceptable terms to the
arch-egalitarian Left. His ultimate legacy: making “conservatism” chic.
Buckley’s embrace of the neoconservatives, the Trotskyite Right,
ensured that the “conservative movement” would morph into
its present-day Social Democrat status.
Proof that Buckley attained acceptance by the establishment’s
ruling elite is the glowing tributes published in the nation’s
leading newspapers, notably the flattering front-page obituaries in
The New York Times and Washington Post. These appreciations speak volumes
about him and about the fact that the deceased was ideologically not
of the “Right” — a “modern conservative” perhaps — but
center of “Right” in the traditional sense of the political
spectrum. A “conservative” by today’s standards seems
to encompass anyone who is to the right of Che Guevara.
For all the sentimental back-slapping of Buckley by conservatives,
what exactly are the accomplishments of the conservative movement in
the past half-century? A smaller federal government? Fiscal responsibility?
The protection and advancement of liberty and freedom? What are the
lasting achievements of the conservative movement? An alternative media?
Stopping America’s cultural slide to the far Left? The single
most important beachhead for liberalism is the vice-like grip on our
cultural and social institutions through public education and the mass
media. Conservatives have punted to reverse what James Burnham once
referred to as the “Suicide of the West.”
It is precisely “Chairman Bill’s” thumbprint on
the “conservative movement” that led to intellectual stagnation
on a host of critical issues facing the West: mass immigration, multiculturalism,
ballooning of the welfare state, racial preferences, and opposition
to racial egalitarianism. If preserving one’s cultural and ethnic
heritage isn’t a worthy goal of the “conservative” movement,
what is? The tepid reaction from conservative quarters to an exploding
demographic shift — one that is transforming America’s
dominant European roots into a Third World culture — is simply
Marcus Epstein rightly points out on VDARE.com that the “prevailing
structure of taboos” has shifted considerably to the Left. Buckley
and the modern conservative movement are largely to blame for not resisting
this cultural climate, which has festered to the point where men can
lose their career for speaking too freely.
In the mid 1950s Richard Weaver once noted in National
of us readily admit that this nation owes both its independence and
its happiness to the principle of self-determination. That principle
is now in danger of being suppressed by a blind zeal for standardization
and enforced conformity. To oppose that trend, we do not have to become
sectionalists. We need only grant the right of distinct groups to exercise
some liberty of choice in the ordering of their social and cultural
arrangements. If that liberty is denied, there will be no ground left
on which to assert any other liberty.”
Weaver’s admonition that it was a mistake for conservatives
to drift just to the right of the Left as the country lurched ever
leftward culturally and politically was remarkably prescient. This
is precisely what has defined the “conservative” agenda
over the years. The legacy of American “conservatives” has
been to reassure liberals they aren’t really that conservative;
and to prove that they really are not bigots and racists they have
no intention of conserving our European heritage.
Thank you, “Chairman Bill,” for this heralded achievement.
Back to Lamb Amongst
Lamb Amongst Wolves column by Kevin Lamb is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfbooks.com.
All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint if credit is given to the
author and the Foundation.
Kevin Lamb is managing editor of The Social
Contract magazine. His
articles have appeared on VDARE.com and in National Review,
Human Events, Chronicles, Middle American News, and the Journal of Social,
Political, and Economic Studies.
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