Sunday, August 07, 2016
Vanity, Ambition, and Greed: The Curse of William F. Buckley
[Previously, at WEJB/NSU:
“National Review's Defense of White Supremacy.”]
Re-posted by Nicholas Stix
Review of John McManus’ William F. Buckley, Jr.: Pied Piper of the
5.0 out of 5 stars
By David H Miller on January 1, 2004
In his introduction, John McManus quotes from a 1952 essay by William F. Buckley, Jr. published in the Catholic magazine Commonweal. Buckley wrote:
"...we have got to accept Big Government for the duration -- for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged, given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores..."
I had seen this infamous quote before I read McManus' book, but reading the book motivated me to check the original source in the local university library: McManus is quoting accurately and the quote is not taken out of context.
So, why would a writer, such as Buckley, who has made a career claiming to be an opponent of Big Government and a defender of traditional values and individual rights, endorse a "totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores"?
This is the question which McManus' book aims to answer.
McManus is President of the right-wing John Birch society, but, although I myself differ from McManus and his group on a host of issues (ranging from abortion and the Drug War to China policy), I found his book to be well-documented, accurate, and chockful of relevant facts.
Part of McManus' explanation rests on the fact, publicly acknowledged by Buckley, that Buckley was at one time a CIA operative; some of Buckley's closest political associates (e.g., James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall) were also CIA operatives. The CIA's penchant for clandestinely funneling money to useful intellectuals is now a matter of public record (see, e.g., Saunders' "The Cultural Cold War"). For example, the famous "Congress for Cultural Freedom," which published the internationally renowned intellectual journal "Encounter," was eventually admitted by all concerned to be a CIA front. McManus points out that it is more than credible -- given the CIA's admitted record with the CCF, "Encounter," etc. -- that Buckley, along with his flagship operation, the magazine "The National Review," was a CIA front.
To what purpose? Prior to Buckley, American conservatives had been anti-war and anti-militarist: the right-wing had opposed American involvement in both World War II and Korea.
Buckley changed all that.
Regardless of the possible CIA connection, the Buckley re-definition of conservatism served broader goals of the governing establishment. As McManus points out, Buckley's strategy consisted of "portraying the Red menace as nearly invincible. Americans could then be persuaded to accept higher taxation, increasingly onerous controls, and an array of international alliances leading to world government, all under the guise of opposing the external Soviet threat."
The military draft, the Great Society, federal control of scientific research and higher education, etc. -- to use Buckley's phrase, "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores," all justified by the need to confront and out-compete the Soviet Union.
To anyone who suggests that this was not simply a ruse aimed at maintaining political power, McManus points out that the Buckleyites even "red-baited" McManus' own far-right, rabidly anti-Communist John Birch Society! In October 1965, Buckley's "National Review" accused the Birchers' founder, Robert Welch, of following the "pacifist-Commie line" because Welch had expressed some well-founded doubts about the ill-fated U.S. adventure in Vietnam.
What were Buckley's personal motivations? McManus quotes an early Buckley associate, Medford Evans: "The reluctant conclusion that I have reached is that William F. Buckley Jr. is and has been driven by vanity, ambition, and greed to seek a place in the Establishment which he professes -- or once professed -- to oppose."
McManus also quotes the populist Kevin Phillips who more colorfully hints that Buckley's actions were due to personal status insecurity (the Buckleys were "New Money," not old wealth):
"There was, of course, a time when Bill Buckley was anti-establishment -- back in the long-ago days when he was an Irish nouveau-riche cheer leader for Joe McCarthy. But since then he's primed his magazine with cast-off Hapsburg royalty, Englishmen who part their names in the middle, and others calculated to put real lace on Buckley's Celtic curtains."
Certainly, Buckley's little magazine has, since its inception, reeked of a certain pseudo-sophisticated air that falsely suggested to its readers that the magazine could elevate them to a higher realm of elite taste and intellectual sophistication.
So Bill Buckley is not a real conservative but merely a willing tool of the anti-conservative establishment. Does it matter? Buckley is, after all, now in his dotage -- the influential conservatives nowadays are Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, etc.
The answer is that Buckley, for good or ill, succeeded in shaping the American conservative movement in his own image. If they are not quite Buckley's clones, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter are nonetheless his ideological descendants. Buckley himself will doubtless soon be dead, but his influence lives on.
Furthermore, just as Buckley and his cohorts found the Cold War to be a useful excuse for creating a "totaliatrain bureacracy within our shores," so now a newer generation of faux conservatives is using the threat of Islamic terrorism to squelch any authentic anti-establishment, Constitutionalist elements on the Right and to re-establish a Buckleyite "totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores." History does repeat itself.
For further discussions, from varying perspectives different from McManus', of Buckley's dominating influence on the American conservative movement, I recommend Raimondo's "Reclaiming the American Right," Nash's "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in American Since 1945," and Gottfried's "The Conservative Movement."