A Few Thoughts on Buckley

The guy got some things wrong, but he got a lot right (in both senses of the word).

Buckley leaves an enormous legacy, but to the detriment everyone, the right left Buckley years ago. Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck. Where Buckley mistrusted government and aimed to slow the world down, he's been usurped on the right by the likes of William Kristol and David Brooks, men who want to use government to remake the world in their own image. Where Buckley flourished in cosmopolitan Manhattan and took delight in life's finer things, modern conservatism has grown disdainful of the marketplace of culture, commerce, and ideas abundant in urban areas (witness the last election, where many on the right weirdly smeared John Kerry as a "latte-sipper"—real Americans apparently drink Maxwell House). In fact, today's Bush/neocon-right is often contemptuous of commerce itself, sometimes calling the voluntary, unchecked exchange of goods, labor, and services—a pure free market—"ugly" and "crude."

The 15-year GOP ascent to power from 1980 to 1994 gave rise to rightist thinkers more inclined toward activist government, just one that was active promoting conservatism. With Republicans at the helm of the federal government, limiting government's scope and reach no longer seemed like such a good idea. So old right thinkers like Buckley lost influence in favor of big government neocons like Kristol, who gave quarter to grand dreams like an imperial presidency, using the federal government to promote conservative values through intervention in areas like health care and the public schools, remapping the Middle East, and other ideas that require too great a belief in the competence and benevolence of bureaucrats and politicians for sensible rightists like Buckley.

I didn't agree with Buckley on everything, of course. But he represents a time when conservatives and libertarians shared quite a bit of common ground—indeed when both philosophies largely sprang from the same well of ideas and influences. I don't think that's the case anymore.

Rest in peace.

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  • boston||

    Conservatism would do well to return to turn away from the ugly populism that currently has the movement by the throat, and move toward Buckley's more elitist-tinged skepticism of power. Buckley was intellectually honest, engaged his opponents fairly, and was willing to admit when he'd been wrong (see his change of position on the drug prohibition and the war in Iraq, respectively). More importantly, he was no party hack. He was beholden to ideas. real Americans apparently drink Maxwell House). In fact, today's Bush/neocon-right is often contemptuous of commerce itself, sometimes calling the voluntary, unchecked exchange of goods, labor, and services--a pure free market-"ugly" and "crude."



    I think something is missing

  • Andrew||

    He was a cool guy that got me into conservative/libertarian thinking and politics in the first place. Without him, I probably would have never read writers like Rand, Chambers, Hayek, Friedman & Co. and be a lot dumber today.

    I also admired that some of his best friends were truly, deeply liberal -- even socialist. His disagreements were always intellectual it seemed. Never personal. I wish that atttitude was more common in Washington.

    And I liked the fact that, although he knew politics really well, it didn't consume him. He had a life and an interesting one at that as a sailor, novelist, musician, father etc.

    Rest in peace, sir. You earned it.

  • ||

    Damnit Radley why didn't you include the marijuana!!

    I read this piece at TheAgitator.com and the quote at the top was a nice addition

  • ||

    I think something is missing

    OK, go on....

  • Batty||

    This is the "libertarian" who wanted to tattoo AIDS victims? Who supported segregation? But he talked real purty.

  • Radley Balko||

    Sorry -- HTML gremlins.

    Fixed now.

    And I didn't include the quote, because a few readers pointed out that Buckley didn't originate it -- he just made it popular.

  • ||

    His friendship with John Kenneth Galbraith as well as his love-hate relationship with Gore Vidal says a lot about the man. He was generally gracious and friendly to his liberal protagonists; above all he added a sense of fun, congeniality and warmth to the conservative movement.

    I admire him because, although a strong Catholic, he didn't try to cram "christian" family values down one's throat like current evangelical conservatives. A good man who will be missed.

  • LevStrauss||

    "Conservatism would do well to return to turn away from the ugly populism that currently has the movement by the throat, and move toward Buckley's more elitist-tinged skepticism of power."

    "So old right thinkers like Buckley lost influence in favor of big government neocons like Kristol"

    It would do us much better as libertarians and conservatives to actually read those we oppose. Read Kristol company's influences and see just exactly what you are fighting against. Use Leo against them. I guess that's why I never bothered with WFB and Rand, because when you read the Neoconservative influences it is pretty damn clear why we are on the outside looking in.

  • MattW||

    "The 15-year GOP ASSent to power" ...

    Typo or pun-dis?

  • John McCain||

    "Conservatism would do well to return to turn away from the ugly populism that currently has the movement by the throat, and move toward Buckley's more elitist-tinged skepticism of power."

    Why does it have to be a choice between populism and elitism?

    On some issues, the public is wrong and needs to be persuaded to change its mind. Eg, the New Deal, Great Society, etc. If opposing lefty populsm is elitist, so be it.

    On other issues, the public is sounder than the elites who would guide us all into the broad, sunlit uplands of enlightenment. Abortion on request, gay marriage, and the whole melange of cultural crap, would not be as advanced today if we acknowledge the right of the public (or its legislative representatves) to decide for themselves which legal changes are needed, rather than letting federal courts, administrative agencies, etc., make the decision for everyone. If this is a populist position, so be it.

  • Mad Max||

    oops, forgot to change my handle.

    RIP, WFB. :(

  • Julian Fondren||

    when you read the Neoconservative influences it is pretty damn clear why we are on the outside looking in

    It probably doesn't help that 'we' are full of (ironically) anti-intellectual loathing for the Mises Institute. That Hoppe guy omigosh said mean things about the time-preferences of gay people, and Lew Rockwell said things that are totally racist to our race-ist ears, and Rothbard was a goldbug and a defender of conspiracy-theorists! But how far do you expect to get with libertarianism when you buy into the myth of democratic peace, when you don't read the preserved literature of the Old Right, when you apply 'economics' that worries about market failures and public goods and that can speak but hypothetically about economic consequences? Even 'social libertarian' tendencies must want for e.g. Walter Block's defense of drug-dealers, drug-takers, pimps, libelers, &c.

  • DannyK||

    Of course, WFB always had an inquisitorial side to him -- his first book called for purging Yale of seditious professors, he wrote an admiring book about Senator McCarthy soon afterwards, and he wrote a loving fictionalized biography of the man later in life. I think he bears some responsibility for incubating a paranoid, reactionary conservatism. Without somebody like WFB to prune the excesses, you get the current mess.

  • ||

    His disagreements were always intellectual it seemed. Never personal. I wish that atttitude was more common in Washington.

    You have to be serenely self confident in yourself to do that. Few people are.

    And for those who crave power, nothing is more supremely personal and non-intellectual.

  • Jumbie||

    Anyone want to wager on who out of David Brooks and Bill Kristol will be first to try and plunk down the mantle of Buckley on their own vision of conservatism?

  • NP||

    Damn, I just heard the news. Didn't agree with him on a whole lot, but no one can deny his enormous contributions to the diversity of political discourse in America. RIP.

  • ||

    Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck.

    Hear, hear.

  • ||

    Hear, hear.

    There, there.

    Rest easy, Mr. Buckley

  • MK2||

    Didn't Buckley devote an entire issue of National Review to exposing Pat Buchanan's anti-Semitism?

  • ||

    I didn't agree with Buckley on everything, of course. But he represents a time when conservatives and libertarians shared quite a bit of common ground

    No sale. He represented a conservative movement that deceived libertarians into believing they had common ground. But they were lying.

    Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck.

    That is certainly true. The paleo conservative may have been a smooth talking, back stabbing, minion of satan. But the neocons are just ugly, vicious, demons from hell.

  • ||

    MK2,

    I don't know about that particular issue, but Buckley was taking issue (heh) with anti-semites in the Republican Party and conservative movement as far back as the 50s.

    Which is pretty impressive, since the isolationist wing of the party was part of the America First movement in the 30s, as well as being controlled by old-school Yankee blue-bloods.

  • ||

    I believe WFB's opinions and worldview were shaped more by his Catholicism, which could almsot be described as fundamentalist Catholic. I would agree he - indeed his whole Irish Catholic family - were therefore elitist in their views, but it was in more of an old-school Spanish way, rather than old-school Yankee blue blood.

    WFB SR grew up poor close to the Mexican border, and dominated both English and Spanish. He was an entrepreneur/speculator, witnessed first hand the Mexican Revolution. And joe, I'm sure you can guess which side he was on.

    At any rate, in 1926, the year after WFB Jr. was born, the family moved to Venezuela, where Dad was looking for oil. Four years later the family moved to France. WFB Sr. always insisted on hiring nannies and homeschooling the kids. Spanish speaking for the younger, French for the older ones.

    So while the family always maintained a US residence, they weren't the traditional Yankee elitist group that some maintain.

  • ||

    I have to amend the "homeschool" part. WFB Jr did attend an English boarding school. Home tutored would be more accurate.

  • ||

    Real coffee, brewed as strong as the Europeans drink it, is the mark of the elite now. The plebs drink Starbucks.

  • Hoot R Gibson||

    The only Clown Balko is you! Buckley was a great man, you are nothing more that a elite liberal dung thrower, who has no clue as to what a true Conservative is.

    You could take a lesson from the likes of Beck and D'Souza.

  • ||

    The plebs drink Starbucks. - Erika



    Nah. America Runs On Dunkin'

    Kevin

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