Cordially, WFB

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this OpinionJournal interview with the capo of conservatives, William F. Buckley, who muses on National Review and other topics. A snippet:

This…is a glancing way of referring to the U.S. enterprise in Iraq, which Mr. Buckley calls "anything but conservative." "Conservatism," he says, "except when it is expressed as pure idealism, takes into account reality, and the reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous. This isn't to say that the war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events."

Mr. Buckley is similarly skeptical of the presidency of George Bush, who, he says, was not elected "as a vessel of the conservative faith." He returns to a formulation he has used before: "Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative."

More here. Elsewhere in the Q&A, Buckley "declares without hesitation that National Review was his greatest accomplishment."

Speaking of which, here's a long-overdue summary of NR's 50th anniversary bash, which was held in October. I meant to blog this weeks ago:

Buckley–one of the few truly giant figures in post-war politico-cultural circles–is clearly a few days past his expiration date when it comes to public speaking. But even those of us who disagree with him on virtually every issue must give him props for all he's done. Consider his 1968 alone: He appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and called Gore Vidal a "yellow queer" on national TV during the Democratic National Convention, meaning he had a better year then than Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Saul Bellow, the Rolling Stones, Rock Hudson, and Hubert Humphrey combined. (Which isn't to say that Buckley and NR don't have some strange stuff to answer for, as this 2000 attack on them as race traitors in the white supremacist American Renaissance unintentionally documents; by the same token, AR pays the current crew at NR an unintentional compliment by bemoaning, "Today's NR is no longer the brave journal that fought integration and tried to keep America European.")

The strange thing about National Review is that they have basically won on their own terms: When the mag was created in 1955, the idea of a conservative political ascendancy was not simply unimaginable but hilarious–a point driven home not only by Barry Goldwater's Mondale-esque loss in the '64 election but by smug liberal eggheads such as Richard Hofstadter's pompous and bullshit-laden refusal to even consider Buckely and conservatives an intellectual worthy of engagement. And yet by 1980, it was all over now, baby blue, for the ideals (if not the reality) of liberal governance. Yet like all true political winners, for National Review conservatives, the only thing more embittering than landslide defeat seems to be total victory at all levels of federal government. So among the celebration, there were a lot of barbs slung at Bush and the GOP, even as there was no question who the NR crowd supported in 2004 and will support over and over again until the end days.

At the NR party, the true star of the evening was the festivities' emcee, M. Stanton Evans–who's gotta be pushing 80 or more–a self-confessed Ramones fan (he told me this at a Philadelphia Society meeting a few years back) and one of the co-founders not only of National Review but of Young Americans for Freedom, the original hip-to-be-square student organization that throughout the '60s outmanned Students for a Democratic Society, and the National Journalism Center, whose great contribution to contemporary ink-stained wretching is one Malcolm Gladwell. Evans comports himself like Dr. Zaius done sunnyside-up, a wonderfully world-weary and ironic orangutan surrounded by earnest chimpanzees who is filled with secret tragic knowledge that apes descended from humans. Or in this case, that conservatives in power behave a lot like liberals.

When it started out, National Review was the crucible of what used to be called "fusionism"–a big tent on the Right that included anyone who was first and foremost against international communism. That helps to explain why many libertarians back then were more comfortable on the right side of the aisle. One measure of the conservative crack-up in the wake of the Cold War's end and the rise of Republicanocracy is that, at NR's 50th anniversary bash, a couple of folks from the Log Cabin Republicans managed to snag seats at table 52 while the crew from Reason were banished to a kids' table in the mid-80s. But I'm not grumbling: We all got the same food and booze.

And there's no doubt that of all the political mags alive and kicking during the last half-century, none has enjoyed as much success in changing the political landscape than NR. It'll be interesting to see how they fare over the next 50 years.

NEXT: National Strategy for Tautology in Iraq

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  1. Almost 20 years on (!) I count my stint at M. Stan’s impossibly ramshackle Capitol Hill outpost as some of my best times. A truly brilliant guy who is funnier than hell, although I’m pretty sure the Ramones thing is just a carry-over from being utterly smitten with the ’68 Elvis comeback leather-jacket thing.

  2. “The strange thing about National Review is that they have basically won on their own terms”

    Hm.

    So…

    What can the libertarian movement learn from this?

  3. Sheesh — talk about singing for your supper…

  4. Kudos — Tour de Force, Nick. That was some good blogging — insightful, off-the-cuff, yet nutrient-rich. However, I’ve counted up the number of typos and grammatical gaffes and… you may be approaching my level of late-night drunkeness(and I can hardly type at this point… I’m drunker than ten Indians. Or four Canadians).

  5. Nick – Don’t you think that the effect of NR was been basically disastrous, given its role in promoting the creation of “a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores” (Buckley’s words from Commonweal Magazine in 1952) in order to fight the Cold War? You are too kind to this former CIA agent and the magazine he considers his greatest accomplishment, especially when you recall that their “big tent conservatism” couldn’t make room for people like John T. Flynn, Murray Rothbard, and other representatives of the Old Right who knew of the centralizing implications Buckley’s program.

  6. I’m liberal, but I’m not a liberal.

  7. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, Nick Gillespie decided to fawn over National Review in a style approximating that of its hacks at the Corner.

  8. I would have thought Gore Vidal was more of a libertarian than Buckley. Certainly more concerned about the abuses of state power both at home and overseas.

    Here he is talking about “real libertarians” in a discussion with Independent Institute scholar Robert Higgs:

    http://www.uncommonknowledge.org/700/701.html

    I must have missed the glowing 80th-birthay tributes to Vidal here.

    By the way, in the Higgs conversation, Vidal claims that “true libertarians aren’t members”: for the “of what,” I would insert conservative claque of choice. If NR refused to seat the Reason group even in the kiddie section but instead asked that they bus tables for free, would they do it?

    Time to cut the cord.

  9. ….one of the co-founders not only of National Review but of Young Americans for Freedom, the original hip-to-be-square student organization that throughout the ’60s outmanned Students for a Democratic Society….

    What? All 12 of them? YAFFERS I mean.

    Lessee, In the Big OC there was me, Ed Royce, John Lewis, Toni, my girlfriend Debbie (who was as sweet as she was great looking), her sister, Steve, his girlfriend Leslie, wait, wait, I know there was somebody else…….and that was before the big split where the Lazy Fairies took their ball and went home (roughly coinciding with the Rand excommunications).

    I’ll tell you what though, the much reviled Dana Rhorbacher had a big penthouse on the top floor of an older building in Belmont Shore across from the beach and he threw some awesome parties (see NR’s Dope on Dana) by our old friend Gene over at Renaissance Books.

    Seriously though, YAF was outgunned but we still did some cool stuff. I haven’t forgotten nearly getting strangled by the Secret Service at that McGovern rally in LA after I got in a fight with some jerk off. Nor have I forgotten when the Secret Service planted dope on me at an anti-Nixon rally in San Clemente after my brakes failed and I accidentally crashed through the barricades.

    And I leave you with this tidbit courtesy of PJ O’Rourke….

    “How come,” I asked Andy, “whenever someone upsets the Left, you see immediate marches and parades and rallies with signs already printed and rhyming slogans already composed, whereas whenever someone upsets the Right, you see two members of the Young Americans for Freedom waving a six-inch American Flag?”

    “We have jobs.” said Andy.

  10. Buckley’s comments about nation building in Iraq echo Goldwater’s comment that the U.S. is not and should not be the policeman for the world. Too bad more people didn’t listen to him.

    Chris — Regarding Murray Rothbard and the big conservative tent, I think Rothbard’s exclusion was as much due to Rothbard as due to Buckley et al. I think he was happy running around outside while making fun of some of the fools inside.

  11. What I found off-putting about Buckley’s slap at the Iraq War is that he was probably the first major pundit to call for war with Iraq after 9/11, on September 14, 2001.

  12. I gathered from Buckley’s comment that his problem is more with our prolonged attempt at nation-building in Iraq than with having our deposed Hussein.

    Buckley’s an odd bird, I’d say. He has some definite libertarian impulses, but they are bundled with a James Bond/”military-industrial complex” view of international relations, as well as the type of old-school elitism that espouses religion and public morality as, in effect, a very useful way to control the masses.

  13. I meant “than with our having deposed Hussein”–sheesh, I can read. Really.

  14. The Wine Commonsewer,

    Well, I certainly don’t have anything like your heroic and harrowing experiences to tell about, but I was the YAF Colorado state coordinator in the mid-seventies. Back then, for me at least, it was conservatism = libertarianism. We showed The Incredible Bread Machine flick, interviews with libertarian luminaries, and old Ronald Reagan flicks. We sponsored a talk by Rothbard on campus (CU Boulder) and lotsa stuff like that. We also helped with a tax limitation initiative.

    I do have one good war story to relate. One time YAF and some of our anarchist allies went to picket a talk by Tim Wirth and Mo Udall. We had signs like; “Tim Wirthless” and “Mao Udall”. The lefties sponsoring the speeches were annoyed and embarrassed by our presence. They said that we were being “disrespectful”, especially to Udall since he was a visitor. The lefties then made the mistake of physically trying to take our signs away. The other YAF folks and I held our ground (and signs). But our anarchist buddies took the attempted theft as a cue to counter attack. One of the anarchists was about 5’2″ and 250lbs. She repelled the lefty sign thieves with savage kicks with her combat boots. Other of anarchists displayed marital arts skills that I would never have thought that they possessed.

    By he time it was over, I witnessed an attempted violation of our 1st Amendment rights thoroughly repulsed. In the repulsion, I also witnessed both blood and shrieks of pain issuing from the perpetrators. It was a wonderful scene. I only wish that all initiated coercion could be so dispatched.

  15. The Wine Commonsewer,

    Well, I certainly don’t have anything like your heroic and harrowing experiences to tell about, but I was the YAF Colorado state coordinator in the mid-seventies. Back then, for me at least, it was conservatism = libertarianism. We showed The Incredible Bread Machine flick, interviews with libertarian luminaries, and old Ronald Reagan flicks. We sponsored a talk by Rothbard on campus (CU Boulder) and lotsa stuff like that. We also helped with a tax limitation initiative.

    I do have one good war story to relate. One time YAF and some of our anarchist allies went to picket a talk by Tim Wirth and Mo Udall. We had signs like; “Tim Wirthless” and “Mao Udall”. The lefties sponsoring the speeches were annoyed and embarrassed by our presence. They said that we were being “disrespectful”, especially to Udall since he was a visitor. The lefties then made the mistake of physically trying to take our signs away. The other YAF folks and I held our ground (and signs). But our anarchist buddies took the attempted theft as a cue to counter attack. One of the anarchists was about 5’2″ and 250lbs. She repelled the lefty sign thieves with savage kicks with her combat boots. Other of anarchists displayed marital arts skills that I would never have thought that they possessed.

    By he time it was over, I witnessed an attempted violation of our 1st Amendment rights thoroughly repulsed. In the repulsion, I also witnessed both blood and shrieks of pain issuing from the perpetrators. It was a wonderful scene. I only wish that all initiated coercion could be so dispatched.

  16. Sorry about the double post. I thought I stopped the one that inadvertently had the “j” appended to my name.

  17. Damn it!

  18. NR’s socially medieval tendencies far outweigh any libertarian tendencies they may have. May it grow increasingly obselete (hell, I even got my dad to stop taking it.)

  19. andy,

    Yeah, every month I buy Reason (at least 3 of them!) Liberty, and American Conservative (it’s twice a month) but I can’t remember the last time that I bought or subscribed to NR.

  20. The lefties then made the mistake of physically trying to take our signs away

    Rick, that’s exactly what happened at the McGovern Rally. I had cleverly painted a sign proclaiming Jews For McGovern on the front and something nasty about his mother on the back. After we were safely inside the rally we flipped the signs. I actually got in two fights, the first one was a two-hit, one throw fight. I hit him, he hit the ground, then he threw the sign back to me. The second one is the one that got me nearly strangled by the Secret Service as they seperated the two of us. Good thing, too, because I don’t think I coulda took him in a long fight (This guy was a big burly guy and a hypocrite who forgot about that peace sign on his sweatshirt).

    Truthfully, I’ve forgotten a lot of the people I used to know from the old days of YAF and the libertarian movement. I prolly knew you. 🙂

    I first got exposed to this stuff when I was about 15 I guess. But I can’t remember exactly how I go to know those people. Damn CRS. It’s like that though, always hard to remember that time between meeting someone and knowing them.

  21. had signs like; “Tim Wirthless” and “Mao Udall”

    classic stuff. Big Smile.

  22. Hey The Wine Commonsewer, and here we are after all these years, still fighting the good fight for liberty.

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