Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dropping the Pilot

William F. Buckley
By David Gordon

Matthew Continetti has written an astonishing article for today’s National Review online. His article appears under the title “The Irreplaceable William F. Buckley Jr.,” but the dominant thrust of the piece is that Buckley’s conservatism can no longer guide the contemporary right.
Continetti writes in reply to George Will, who bemoaned the vulgarian populists who have hijacked conservatism. Will called for a return to the “ebullience, decency, and enthusiasm for learning” displayed by Buckley. Will blamed Whittaker Chambers for the populism he deplored.
Continetti defends Chambers, holding him to have been a moderating influence on Buckley. “Throughout their correspondence, collected in Odyssey of a Friend (1968), Chambers urged Buckley to accept the political reality of the New Deal, to be wary of Joe McCarthy, and to drop his criticisms of Eisenhower and Nixon.” Chambers, by the way, was also a strong opponent of Ludwig von Mises.
If Buckley, according to Continetti needed to be kept in line, nevertheless he had his uses: “Buckley is more responsible than anyone for
assembling that[ conservative] coalition, for determining who would be a part of it, and who would not. He let classical liberals, traditionalists, and anti-Communists into the pages of National Review, but kept out anti-Semites, the John Birch Society, Objectivists, and the followers of anarcho-libertarian Murray Rothbard. He was an editorial gatekeeper, the enforcer of political standards as well as intellectual and grammatical ones.” Continetti does not mention the considerable evidence that in so acting, Buckley did so at the CIA’s behest.
Despite his past services, though, conservatives must move beyond Buckley. Conservatism is now no longer a fringe movement, as it was in Buckley’s day; and, in any case today’s political scene is far different from Buckley’s. “There is no William F. Buckley Jr. to help us, but that is the way of things. ‘Each age finds its own language for an eternal meaning,’ Whittaker Chambers once wrote. Now it is our turn.” Buckley had his uses, but now we do no longer need him. All this in Buckley’s own magazine! The dictum of George Santayana comes to mind: “We do not these days refute our predecessors;we pleasantly bid them good-bye.”
The above originally appeared at

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