Saturday, March 01, 2008

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy he sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn.

If that first paragraph sounds like a rather graceless and gloating way to talk about the recently deceased, I'm paraphrasing Buckley's column on the death of Ayn Rand:

"Ayn Rand is dead," wrote conservative author William F. Buckley in an obituary in 1982 about the best-selling novelist-philosopher. "So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn."

Objectivism was not dead in 1982, nor is it dead now. It thrives and grows more influential every year. It was ignored, however, in 1982, and there were misconceptions about it due to dishonesty and smears such as Whittaker Chambers's vile review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review that likened the philosophy of the book to Hitler's genocide of the Jews.

Unlike Objectivism, conservatism is dead, and Buckley lived long enough to see its death, if he was still paying attention. We now have a Republican party that has made its peace with the New Deal and is a big government, welfare state party. Buckley deserves some of the blame, even though his stated goal was limited government.

But Buckley himself was not as consistent about free market economics as many conservatives even back in the 1960's. He always had pragmatist streak:

All this adds up to a conservatism premised on firm principle and opportune adjustment alike, a dialectic impressed upon Buckley by two of his early mentors, James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers, both ex-Communists with well-developed aversions to strict party lines. When conservatism emerged from the wilderness in the 1960s, it was Buckley who insisted its elected tribunes be given room to operate outside the strictures of "the movement." In 1967, he defended the right's brightest star, Ronald Reagan, who, as governor of California, had enlarged, rather than slashed, the state's budget. Buckley calmly spelled out the reasons and concluded his case by quoting Chambers: "A conservatism that cannot find room in its folds for the actualities is a conservatism that is not a political force, or even a twitch: it has become a literary whimsy."

So from the beginning he defended Republicans acting like Democrats in order to get elected.

Buckley's disastrous mission was to integrate religion and capitalism. It doesn't work. As Robert Tracinski writes:

Fusionism is unstable because its basic premise--that the moral foundation of free markets and Americanism can be left to the religious traditionalists--is false. For five decades, under Buckley's influence, conservatives have ceded to the religious right the job of providing the moral fire to sustain their movement. But they are discovering that the religionists do not have a strong moral commitment to free markets. In fact, the religious right seems to be working on its own version of "fusion"--with the religious left.

Wednesday's Washington Post provided the latest example: a column by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson on the shift to the left among evangelical Christians, who "respond to a message of social justice and community values, not only to a message of rugged individualism and unrestricted markets." Gerson insists that "Christianity indicts oppressive government--but also the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come in free markets and consumerism." So much for traditional religious values serving as the basis for advocacy of capitalism.

The reason for this shift toward the religious left is that religion cannot support the real basis for capitalism and a strong American national defense: a morality of rational self-interest. Christianity is too deeply committed to a philosophy of self-abnegation, a destructive morality that urges men to renounce any interest in worldly goods and to turn the other check in the face of aggression. The early Christian saints, for example, abandoned all material comforts and lived in caves--which is to say that their closest contemporary disciples are the radical environmentalists. As for foreign policy, St. Augustine spent a fair bit of his massive apologia for Christianity, The City of God, explaining to the Romans that being sacked by barbarians was good for them because it taught them the virtue of humility and cured them of their attachment to material wealth.

Ayn Rand wrote about National Review in a letter to Barry Goldwater in 1960:

"This leads me to the subject of the National Review. I am profoundly opposed to it--not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the National Review poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious "party line," can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to "bore from within," to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives. This attempt comes from a pressure group wider than the National Review, but the National Review is one of its manifestations. . . .

"The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since. You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks. I do not believe that that pressure group could succeed in making you its tool. But a philosophical pressure group is very hard to detect, particularly at first. That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.

"I am not certain that you understood my relationship to the National Review, when I spoke to you here. I thought that you knew the facts, but perhaps you do not. In brief, they printed a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, which I have not read, on principle; those who have read it, told me that this former Communist spy claimed that my book advocates dictatorship. Thereafter, the National Review printed two articles about me (which I did read), one of them allegedly friendly, both of them misrepresenting my position in a manner I have not seen outside The Daily Worker or The Nation. What was significant was their second article: it denounced me for advocating capitalism."

The post-war movement to defend capitalism with religious morality will prove to be the most damaging thing ever to happen to American liberty. The leader of that movement was Buckley.

6 comments:

Dismuke said...

That accent of his - that was an affectation, right? I mean, nobody talks like that. It sounded like he was trying to convince everyone he was a cross between some sort of British Lord and Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island.

I remember some years ago seeing a column by Buckley in a newspaper - and what he wrote absolutely floored me. He advocated "voluntary" national service for young people in their late teens and early twenties. They would be able to serve in the armed forces, or on do-gooder missions of various sorts. After all, young people owe such servitude to their country on account of the fact that they were born here. Of course, since this is a free country, the servitude would be strictly voluntary. HOWEVER, those ungrateful, selfish little snots who refuse to volunteer - well, they would not be allowed to get a drivers' license or a Social Security card.

You see, according to Buckley, a drivers' license is a PRIVILEGE. And so is a Social Security card. So according to his argument, why should such privileges be bestowed on ungrateful brats who refuse to serve?

Of course, one cannot legally hold a job in this country without a Social Security card and, as a practical matter, it is very difficult to have a job in most parts of the country if one does not have a car. But that is the problem of the ungrateful little snots. If they really cared about having a drivers' license and a job - well, all they have to do is "volunteer" to fritter away crucial years of their early lives for the State.

That column told me that this was not just some well meaning country bumpkin with a fake accent who was utterly clueless as to what freedom is and is not. This was a man who was HOSTILE to freedom but, for whatever reason, felt it was necessary to give lip service to it.

Myrhaf said...

I too was shocked by that column. What was the point of being such an ardent anti-communist all his life if he was going to end up advocating a system of slavery for the young to state? Oh, yeah -- communism was atheistic.

Anonymous said...

I read your commentary on Buckley and loved it. Then I thought "what would Auster say about Buckley's death?" Well here it is:

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/010017.html

Auster's take: Buckley betrayed conservatism by not being more opposed to immigration and by not being religious enough.

True, consistent conservatives are a scary bunch.

John Kim

Brian N. said...

Boiled into a sentence...

The trouble with conservatism is that it's pointless; it's pure reaction and negation without actual positive counterpoint.

It follows that hit-pieces larded over with lies and disinformation would emerge from such a 'philosophy'...

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

Buckleys' parents were members of the America First Committee, and they, as did he, believed that America should remain neutral until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Of course once that happened, only a fool with a death wish would take that position. So the AFC died a deserving death.

As a child of privilege, he was raised on within the Gold Coast of Mexico until his father was chased off his business and the oil fields during one of many Mexican revolutions. It's alleged that Buckley's first language was Spanish and that his speech pattern resulted from learning English later and spending a lot of time in Spain and London as well as Mexico.

You are right, of course about Buckley and religion. He was Catholic and tried to fuse the religious Christians (Catholics in particular) with the fiscal and defense conservatives in order to undo left leaning liberal secularists. Liberty was not his concern - his concern was keeping his Catholic faith alive and intertwined throughout American culture and government.

His strong suit was the evil called pragmatism. He would eventually move from advocating beliefs that reflected his Catholicism to accepting anything Christian. Without the religious element, people such as Objectivists in general and Ayn Rand in particular were not considered acceptable or conservative by Buckley.

This election is proving that his three legged stool of conservatism is a joke and that it lacks the power to sustain momentum beyond that brought by Gingrich and Regan. In fact, with a growing religious left who are willing to be equally as pragmatic about abortion in order to foster the concentration of the faithful on poverty, wealth redistribution, individual sacrifice for the collective, social justice for the poor and the "problems" of homelessness and lack of health care, it appears the key element of his "stool" has been abandoning him for some time now. Religionist on the left are about 20% more in number than just 8 years ago and their is no sign of the trend stalling or reversing.

Capitalism and liberty are essential to each other. Religion is anti-capitalistic and anti-liberty. Liberty signifies advancing individual rights; communism and to and equal extent, religion, signifies advancing collective rights at the expense of the individual. Liberty celebrates and enhances the individual; collectivism of any sort buries the individual on the ash heap of self-immolation. Religion and the left are actually more suited for each other than religion and the right.

Buckley's gone. His brand of conservatism is dead and it is my hope that the vacuum created by its departure will help to reestablish a party of liberty as imagined by our founding fathers. It is my hope that the importance of property rights and the right to SELF-determination will finally be understood and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars. Transfered FROM US TO THEM. Over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They will never settle for a reasonable share of ANYTHING. They will do whatever it takes to get even richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductable crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. So don’t fall for all of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductable contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah, Ellen, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. WAKE UP PEOPLE. ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Vioxx. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of which concentrate the world’s wealth and resources and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘ good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTABLE PR CRAP. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. EXTREME WEALTH HAS MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.