The Coming Conservative Dark Age – Commentary

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This seems like a rather sunny revisionism of Buckley’s career. The man was fundamentally opposed to the Civil Rights Act for most of his life and certainly during the 1960s. He was anti-Semitic until he wasn’t as well:

    https://newrepublic.com/article/122413/national-reviews-bad-conscience

    “As John Judis documents in his 1988 biography of Buckley, the conservative pundit’s father and namesake, William F. Buckley Sr., was an anti-Semite and fascist sympathizer who tried his best to pass along his ideas to his large brood. In 1937, four of the Buckley kids burned a cross outside a Jewish resort. The eleven-year-old William Buckley Jr. didn’t participate in the cross burning but only because he was deemed too young to participate and by his own account “wept tears of frustration” at being left out of the hate crime. At this point the young Buckley agreed with his father’s worldview, and would argue, in the words of a childhood friend, that “Bolshevik Russia was an infinitely greater threat than Nazi Germany.” The Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco was a hero in the Buckley household, celebrated as a bulwark against the red menace.”

    I have written about this a million times but the Republican Party and conservatism has been flirting with racists of a paranoid and demagogic sort since the start of the post-WWII era if not before. Read Rick Perlstein’s books on the rise of the modern right. You will see Congressmen from the 1950s talk wildly about conspiracies of the United Nations training “barefooted Africans” in Georgia to take over the United States.

    Buckley might have tried to banish the worst of the worse but it was always there including in the National Review. Derbyshire comes to mind.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      I think the famous Lee Atwater quote works here – “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

      The thing is, Donald Trump is just saying the quiet parts loud again, unlike everybody else. But the problem is, for the GOP, the vast majority of non-white people always heard the quiet part, because their continued existence has always depended on hearing the quiet parts.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        The problem I have with that quote is the implicit assumption that cutting taxes actually, you know, hurts black people or even poor people in general.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          @murali

          I suppose this is the difference between libertarianism and liberalism. Less taxes, means less money for social programs from food stamps to Medicare to education and this will generally hurt poor people. Minorities tend to be poor.

          You have to look at what taxes are being cut and where. Public transportation in the United States is an underfunded mess. Lee has pointed out before that public transportation in the United States is seen as social program for the poor more than a transportation thing. So a bus every halfhour or less is acceptable if you don’t have a car. But then everything breaks down because of underfunding and the poor person gets fired for being late from their job.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            Well, there are multiple things going on in the US and at least one of the things is the inefficient allocation of taxed money. For instance, the way you guys fund your healthcare is bizarre and inefficient. (Fee for service, work-place provided full cover health insurance etc). There are other issues as well, which we don’t need to go into. Certainly which things are cut and how they’re cut matters, but were they to be cut without affecting level of safety net provision, the poor would be doing better. So, you could realise enormous gains by cutting taxes and just not paying out benefits to those who are already fairly well off.

            We can do a lot more to make american government far more efficient without going full libertarian. That’s not to include instances where, I suspect, generous welfare policy keeps people in cycles of poverty. (e.g unemployment insurance)Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              This is what happens when you institute wage and price controls during a war and employers need to attract employees. If you can’t do it on wages, you do it on other stuff. Then it stuck around for the next 80+ years.

              “realise enormous gains by cutting taxes and just not paying out benefits to those who are already fairly well off.” Yeah, you could, but the politicians have spent decades telling folks that SS is THEIR money, that it’s in a lock box, etc., so old people want their damn money and take any cuts, regardless of their wealth, as a broken promise. And hell, those gerries vote!Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          The problem I have with that quote is the implicit assumption that cutting taxes actually, you know, hurts black people or even poor people in general.

          Good point.

          Of course, the point of the comment – and its persistence – is that Atwater isn’t talking about the merits of a certain policy but a certain type of discourse: one that appeals to certain folks emotional, non-intellectual intentions and desires.

          On the upside, he DID say that getting so abstract was counterproductive to the original racist appeal!!Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            So, I see the quote being used 2 ways:

            1. That getting abstract helps combat racism. Because it reinforces the idea that its not ok to create policy just to hurt minorities.

            2. Getting abstract is just a way of pursuing the same racist goals by other means. In particular, the insinuation that libertarians are crypto racists.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      the Republican Party and conservatism has been flirting with racists of a paranoid and demagogic sort since the start of the post-WWII era if not before.

      Before. Recall the whole “Mr. Roosevelt’s War” shtick, which even today bobs up to the surface from time to time.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Buckley might have tried to act as a gate keeper with the Nation Review, although as Saul and Jesse pointed out this is a debatable point, but generally failed. What Buckley really did was the political equivalent of trying to hide rather than get rid of the trash. The racists, Jew haters, reactionaries, and generally conspiracy nuts were still there even if they were hidden. They had their own publications. Mainstream conservatives tried to harness the power of the more unhinged people when they could. Many times Republican politicians would indulge them in ways that a Democratic politicians would get salvaged for if they indulged the worst aspects of anybody who might vote for a Democratic Party politician.Report

  3. Avatar j r says:

    The problem with Saul, Jesse and Lee’s comments are that y’all are confusing positive analysis for normative analysis. This isn’t an attempt to rehabilitate Buckley, because for the intended audience, Buckley doesn’t need rehabilitation.

    By exiling anti-Semites, Birchers, and anti-American reactionaries from its pages, the magazine and its editor determined which conservative arguments were legitimate and which were not.

    This is a factual statement about the role Buckley played in the post-war conservative movement not an attempt to make that movement look like anything that it wasn’t. You guys don’t like the post-war conservative movement? Congratulations on your excellent politics! That’s all completely beside the point of the article.

    And that’s not to say that you shouldn’t use the occasion to say something beside the point of the article, but still relevant to the conservative movement. But what’s the point in quibbling with factual statement ?Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    So if conservatism can’t hide its foul petticoats anymore because of the death of the gatekeepers what does that mean? It seems to me it suggests some short term pain as the foulness seethes on the surface but in the long run, presuming this attitude is genuinely noxious to the electorate, that the foulness will genuinely diminish? The truth shall set you free but first it’ll hurt like hell.Report

  5. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Buckley and company lowered the drawbridge and welcomed the neoconservatives to the castle. “Come on in,” National Review editorialized, “the water’s fine.”

    Beside the point, but someone has a serious problem with mixed metaphors, unless some subtle point is being attempted about the neoconservatives being promptly tossed into the moat.

    It is also unclear to me what “gnostic” is supposed to mean here. I see the word bandied about in Christian circles. Whenever the context is anything other than early Christian sects, it seems to mean “stuff I don’t like.” (This is not to say that its meaning is entirely clear even in the context of early Christian sects.) In the context of 20th century American politics, the usage is even less clear, assuming it is intended to mean anything other than “stuff I don’t like.”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Beside the point, but someone has a serious problem with mixed metaphors, unless some subtle point is being attempted about the neoconservatives being promptly tossed into the moat.”

      Just a warning: Our cafeteria serves terrible food, and the portions are very small!

      “It is also unclear to me what “gnostic” is supposed to mean here. ”

      I think he was going for “antediluvian” but didn’t quite have the vocabulary.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      In this case, the drawbridge was clearly a clever gate blocking the beach access and water landing for the moat.

      From earlier in the article, I can only surmise that gnostic must be referring to Leo Strauss and probably Kendall; which, I suppose makes Voegelin and Weaver atavistic? Weaver maybe, but a bit of a stretch for Voegelin.

      If the above is correct, then using gnostic to describe Strauss is correct – not because he wrote “stuff I don’t like” but because his entire theory is based on secret or hidden meanings of texts. We have a perfectly good word for “stuff I don’t like” – heresy. Those people we burn. Gnosticism is for people who say things I like, but suggest that I like the opposite of what I’m supposed to like. Those people we flog, then burn.Report