Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, 82

Thomas Riggins

There is no doubt, from reading the New York Times obituary (2-28-2008), that Buckley was a talented and bright person. But his legacy, I fear, is mostly negative and his existence was a not a boon to humanity. A few quotes from the Times reveals why.

“Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism – not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas – respectable in liberal postwar America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Mr. Goldwater in 1964 [types like John Bolton] and saw his dreams fulfilled when Mr. Reagan and the Bushes captured [an apt word indeed] the Oval Office.” Bush Jr. even gave him The Medal of Freedom, forever sullied from its contact with both of them.

Reagan and the Bushes have given us a legacy of war, racism, constitutional betrayal, corruption at the highest levels of the government, vote rigging, and a foreign policy predicated on the repression and oppression of the world’s poorest people in the interests of the profits of the big American multinationals and their CEOs. This is the “greatest achievement” of William F. Buckley.

He showed his true conservative opinions and his deep hatred for the American constitution and its promise of diversity and freedom of speech in his 1951 book God and Man at Yale, which “called for the firing of faculty members who advocated values out of line with what he saw as Yale’s traditional values [fascism?]”. The Times reports that he had to spend $10,000 (no small sum in 1951) to get this book off the ground. This tripe would never have been seen without this financial intervention.

He showed his true colors when his magazine National Review lined “up squarely behind Southern segregationists saying that Southern whites had the right to impose their ideas on blacks who were as yet culturally and politically inferior to them.” Of course they were “politically inferior”—they were not allowed to vote or to participate in politics! If this is “intellectually acceptable” then it says more about the level of intellect in the US ruling class and its sycophants than it says about Buckley.

It is at least comforting to know that his magazine and the intellectually juvenile articles published in it could not survive if it depended on the support of the American people alone. “The magazine,” the Times points out, “has always had to be subsidized by readers’ donations, supplemented by Mr. Buckley’s lecturing fees.”

The whole conservative movement, in fact, rests on nativism and racism and is the intellectual offal of monopoly capitalism whose creature it is and whose financial backing keeps it afloat.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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