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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Saturday, March 01, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr., RIP-- Sort Of

A more critical look at Mr. Buckley...

by Peter Brimelow

"There are no second acts in American lives", F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said. No-one exemplified this better than his fellow Irish-American social climber William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review, who died early in the morning of February 27 at the age of 82.

This might seem an ungallant note to strike at a moment when Buckley is enjoying the posthumous plaudits of friend and (avidly courted) foe. But not the least evidence of Buckley’s unmistakable effeminate streak was a viciousness that showed in his flouting of such comforting conventions—for example in his 1995 obituary of the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, which the Mises Review’s David Gordon fairly described as "malicious spite." Buckley’s rationale (presumably) was that those of us who live by opinion must be prepared to die by opinion. If so, in this area at least, I agree with him.

Just as the gangsters in The Godfather reassured each other that their bloody clashes were just business, not personal, I’d say that my disagreement with Buckley was fundamentally political, although I do consider his character to have been among the most contemptible I have encountered in public life. However, in Buckley’s case, the political was personal and vice versa. It was his personal failings that ultimately accounted for the four-decade fizzle of his once-brilliant career—and for the fact that, regularly credited with the making of the modern conservative movement, he must also be indicted for its breaking.

Above all, he must also be indicted for the breaking, through out-of-control post-1965 mass immigration, of the nation that some of us thought the conservative movement was sworn to defend.

However, I must also note that Buckley himself was extraordinarily, almost hysterically, sensitive to criticism. My own relationship with National Review in the mid-1990s was fatally impaired by that fact that he believed and kept insisting to associates that I had once criticized him in print, although he characteristically declined to raise the matter with me man (so to speak) to man.

I had no recollection of ever criticizing Buckley in print. In fact, I recalled the direct opposite: unheroically maneuvering to avoid an assignment from the late Bob Bleiberg, then Editor of Barron’s, where I was then employed in the decent obscurity of financial journalism, to write an expose of the Buckley family’s controversial dealings in its public oil exploration companies. (In 1979, Buckley himself signed a consent decree with the Securities and Exchange Commission after allegedly attempting to avoid personal bankruptcy by unloading bad investments on a public company he controlled. "Bill isn’t as wealthy as he wants us to think," the Wall Street Journal’s Bob Bartley, himself all too culpable in the conservative movement’s failure to grapple with immigration, gloated to me at the time. He was right, as I realized later when I saw the extent to which National Review subsidized Buckley’s plutocratic life style.)

The point here: astonishingly, Buckley was deeply insecure. I believe he was all too aware that he exemplified Fitzgerald’s celebrated maxim. From the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951, through the founding of National Review in 1955, to his brilliant New York mayoralty race in 1965, rallying the conservative movement after the Goldwater disaster and discovering the crucial Reagan Democrats, he rode the wave of history. After that, despite the potboilers and the celebrity, he achieved nothing.

Buckley’s insecurity was brought home to me with particular force on Election Night 1996. My wife, Maggy, well known...Keep reading>>>

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