James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Buckley's Regret

I can't believe I used to be a subscriber to National Review. Well, actually, I can. Just as I know why I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh: because (at the time) we had the same political and ideological opponents, I thought we shared most of the same values. My subscription, as it happens, ran out over four years ago. The last issue I received was the infamous Unpatriotic Conservatives issue.

But William F. Buckley, the founder of the magazine, is having a tough time lately. He now believes the war was a mistake and, like most Americans, claims he supported it because of the word of the Administration on WMD's. (This was a terrible mistake; even if Iraq had WMD's, that wouldn't have justified a war.) For that, even his magazine's biggest fans think he's demented. He is asked
if he feels like a parent whose kids grew up to be serial killers. He smiles slightly, and his blue eyes appear to twinkle. Then he sighs, "The answer is no. Because what animated the conservative core for forty years was the Soviet menace, plus the rise of dogmatic socialism. That's pretty well gone."
Maybe so. Nevertheless, in the early 1960's Buckley himself "expelled" from the conservative movement those on the right he felt were insufficiently statist. Particularly, radical libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand (though for different reasons), and the patriotic, populist, pro-Constitution John Birch Society. Then, when the conservative coalition began losing its reason for existence after the Berlin Wall fell, Buckley's magazine favored a neoconservative foreign policy over Pat Buchanan's "isolationism."

In the end, however, who was right about the invasion of Iraq? The very segments of the "right" that National Review disavowed: the Rothbardian libertarian movement, the patriot movement, and the Buchananites.

The debate within conservatism has always been Republic vs. Empire. I don't know if Buckley ever really did make up his mind about who was right. But I suspect that today his biggest regret is that he put his magazine in the wrong hands, that he initially blew it on the Iraq War, and that these two blunders will tarnish his name in the annals of history. He probably wishes he could stand athwart his own life trajectory and yell "Stop, go back, and do over from 2001 on - or, better yet, 1989 on!"

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