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For the term "national review".

Conservative Vibes for Our Time

That’s what Nat Con II was all about: getting inside the vibrations of modern life.

What do we mean by “conservatism” these days, anyway? That was one of the questions always present (stated or unstated) at the National Conservatism Conference put on by the Edmund Burke Foundation in Orlando, Florida, late last month. It was the second such conference, NatCon II, the first one having been held in the summer of 2019. How is this new conservatism different from what has gone before? Is it different? About 750 people, many of them young, went to Orlando to find out.

William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, wrote years ago that he knew, if not what conservatism was, at least who conservatives were—confessing at the same time that it was easier to know who a liberal was: “Spin me about like a top, and I will walk up to the single liberal in the room without a zig or a zag and find him even if he is hiding behind the flowerpot.”

Some of the “conservatism” of the Orlando crowd is a reaction, and rebuke, to the Republican establishment, especially some (maybe many) of the Republican office holders in Washington—e.g., the 13 Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted for Joe Biden’s trillion dollar “infrastructure” bill (and who should spend the rest of their time in Washington behind —in?—flowerpots). They are “Chamber of Commerce” Republicans, people who care only about business and the bottom line, not about how we get to that line, or how many people have to get stepped on, or fired, or replaced by Chinese workers (or slaves), to get to that line. National Conservatism is something different—something more proudly American, “Trumpist,” the liberals might claim, accusingly, though it has little to do with Trump, and his name was mentioned only occasionally at the conference.

And “National Conservatism” is not exactly Reaganesque either, as a number of speakers pointed out. But that’s not surprising: Reagan took office more than 40 years ago, and there is no reason to suppose he would have proposed, as the solutions for today’s problems, the solutions he proposed then.

Even Buckley was criticized by one speaker, who said his famous cry for “standing athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’” was simply not sufficient. But Buckley never said it was. That iconic phrase appeared in the first issue of National Review in 1955. But there was a whole lot more.

Buckley wrote: “[National Review] is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation [Doesn’t this remind us of open borders? Critical race theory for kids? Gender optionality?]. Instead of covetously consolidating its premises, the United States seems tormented by its tradition of fixed postulates having to do with the meaning of existence, [Justice Kennedy’s infamous “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” anyone?] with the relationship of the state to the individual [you vill vear your mask und vhere are your vaccinations papers?], of the individual to his neighbor, so clearly enunciated in the enabling documents of our Republic.”

And Buckley continued: “Conservatives in this country—at least those who have not made their peace with the New Deal, and there is a serious question of whether there are others—are non-licensed nonconformists; and this is a dangerous business in a Liberal world, as every editor of this magazine can readily show by pointing to his scars. Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by Liberals [mind you, this was decades before Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook], they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right [Hmm: Republicans In Name Only?], whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.”

“Not made their peace with the New Deal”! Holy smoke! Of course, the New Deal was younger then, dating from about 1933 to 1939, less than two decades before the founding of National Review. But who these days is calling for the repeal of anything?

Christopher DeMuth, the chairman of the conference, said in his speech that three of the critical foundations of nationhood are religion, locality, and family. Exactly. The dedication in Buckley’s first book, God and Man at Yale (1951), reads: “For God, For Country, and for Yale . . . in that order.”

DeMuth’s speech illustrated a point Buckley made in an address to the Conservative Party of New York State in 1964. Buckley said: “Modern formulations are necessary even in defense of very ancient truths. Not because of any alleged anachronism in the old ideas—the Beatitudes remain the essential statement of the Western code—but because the idiom of life is always changing, and we need to say things in such a way as to get inside the vibrations of modern life.”

That’s what Nat Con II was all about: getting inside the vibrations of modern life.


November 11, 2021
American Greatness

Bad Omens From Buckley’s Biographer

Sam Tanenhaus is writing a biography of William F. Buckley Jr, the founder of National Review and of the modern conservative movement. Tanenhaus was interviewed recently by Geoffrey Kabaservice of the Niskanen Center. Readers of the interview will see why Buckley’s friends and conservatives expect an unflattering and inaccurate portrayal of one of the most consequential intellectuals of the twentieth century.

If Tanenhaus’s biography of Buckley is anything like the silly book he wrote in 2009, wonderfully titled The Death of Conservatism (reviewed here), you won’t want not to miss it.

Here, from The Death of Conservatism, is possibly the silliest sentence—and Tanenhaus at his best?—to get published by a mainstream publisher in that entire decade: “Culturally, too these are conservative times…. [C]onservatives should savor the embrace of ‘family values’ by the nation’s homosexual population, who seek the sanctuary—and responsibilities—of marriage and childrearing.”

It just doesn’t get any richer than that—and that explains why admirers of Buckley aren’t expecting an honest or accurate picture of Buckley from Tanenhaus.

Tanenhaus needs to work on getting Buckley family facts straight. He says Buckley couldn’t have written to the King of England about repaying the war debts when he was six because “if he did it, he wrote it in Spanish. And he couldn’t write Spanish because he learned Spanish from his nursemaids, and they were not writers. That’s one of these myths that surrounds Buckley. It’s kind of fun to poke little holes in those. You just think it through logically.” Right.

But thinking logically is difficult without facts. Suggesting that Bill was unable to write in English at age six is absurd. Yes, his first language was Spanish, but he also learned English (at the same time? Amazing!)…in order to converse with his mother and his siblings.

Kabaservice and Tanenhaus discuss Buckley’s (partly) Southern upbringing and his attitude towards black people and the Civil Rights Acts: It’s fair to say they are fixated on the subject. It is also fair to say Buckley was not an early convert to the Civil Rights Acts, though he seems to have changed his mind partly later on. But then later on he also changed his mind on the freedom to smoke: he said, while struggling with emphysema, that he thought government should prohibit smoking. Not everything we say when we get older is wise.

Kabaservice’s and Tanenhaus’s bias is clear: Kabaservice talks about the “storming of the Capitol” on January 6. That’s just left-wing media cant: No more than one gun was confiscated; and possibly up to 23 people had what were described by one report as “baseball bats, chemical sprays, a captured police officer’s riot shield, a crowbar, fire extinguishers and a metal flagpole.” The only killing was by a policeman (details still being covered up by Democrats 11 weeks later), of an unarmed woman climbing through a window, a position difficult to describe as “threatening.” When you hear the words “storming the Capitol” reach for your…skepticism.

Kabaservice and Tenenhaus make great sport of Russell Kirk, an early National Review senior editor, for taking John Calhoun seriously. Calhoun, you see, owned slaves, and presumably nothing he ever said, ever, can be taken seriously. He believed in states’ rights, any serious discussion of which the wokies smother with a racial blanket. And he had a theory of concurrent majorities. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s not surprising, but it’s worth looking up.

Alas, poor Calhoun: He’s become an arch villain. But it’s really, “Alas, poor us,” because he had interesting things to say about minority rights. You get the impression from the Calhoun-haters that if Calhoun had invented the Salk vaccine, they’d have preferred to die of polio.

Kabaservice and Tanenhaus make fun of people who disparaged the civil rights bills. And of people who didn’t like Lincoln (shhh, some people still don’t). And of people who like constitutional government. They are critical of National Review senior editor James Burnham’s writing about “plebiscitary democracy.” “Well,” says Tanenhaus, “it goes back to that idea that we were a republic initially and we evolved into a democracy.”

Whoa there, fella. What does “evolved” mean in a constitutional republic? If you’re a big-government liberal, that evolving may make your heart go pitter-pat. But what happens to the losers in flyover land when the populations of New York (where the governor may soon be indicted) and California (where the governor may soon be recalled) run the country?

Does Tanenhaus care?

Don’t these folks who wear their antiracism on their sleeves ever look at the results of the policies they promote? They are hugely detrimental to…precisely the people they claim you are discriminating against. Really, it’s painful to listen to New York Timesie intellectuals who spend their time promoting policies that are detrimental to black people (e.g., a minimum wage, illegal immigration, and suppressing non-public schools) while smugly Madison-advertising their own racial sensitivity and moral superiority.

Did the early post-WWII conservatives get some things wrong? Probably. Most of us do. But one thing they got right was the danger to freedom the gargantuan state presents—never more apparent than today—and presents most especially to black people.

Tanenhaus, and Kabaservice, have some pleasant things to say about Buckley: He was a peerless discoverer of talent; he exuded a kind of generosity of spirit; he was open to discussion; and he had a largeness and a capaciousness that we don’t see elsewhere.

All true, as those of us who knew him well know. But it’s a good guess that Tanenhaus’s book will emphasize Buckley’s early positions on race while studiously ignoring what 60 years of ministrations by Democrats, resisted by Buckley, have done to black Americans. The takeaway from this interview is that Tanenhaus is not likely to be complimentary to Buckley. Just think it through logically.


April 1, 2021
The American Conservative