March 12, 2008


A Clear Voice in Babylon: William F. Buckley Jr., "The Unmaking of a Mayor" (George N. Crocker, Summer 1967, First Principles)

If anyone ever wrote a whole book about his election as mayor of a city, the precedent has escaped this reviewer’s attention. A fortiori, he knows of no one who ever devoted 335 pages to chronicling for posterity, as William F. Buckley Jr. has done, the campaign in which he ran for mayor and lost. Buckley not only lost; he came in third.

This comment is in no way intended to deplore Buckley’s extraordinary venture into politics as a candidate in the 1965 mayoralty election in New York City, or to disparage the book he has written about it. There are many things about Buckley which are without precedent; this has been known to friends and foes ever since he emerged with honors from college in 1950 and proceeded to write that devastating critique of liberal establishmentarianism in the academic world, Cod And Man At Yale-a work which did not devastate Yale University, but did devastate any illusion that the prevailing orthodoxy which so repelled the student Buckley in the academic milieu would go without an articulate, brave, and heavily-armored challenger in the years ahead. And friends and foes do all concede that among the rare concatenation of personal qualities which have made Buckley a natural leader-if not the leader-of the young, intellectual conservatives of this country, a preference €or the well-trod, easy path is not among them.

The Unmaking of a Mayor is only incidentally an autobiographical record of an episode in a man’s career. More broadly, it is a highly perceptive diagnosis of a moral and intellectual malaise that afflicts party politics and the electoral process today, most acutely in the cities. New York City is politically eccentric, no doubt; but even so, this book, more incisively as well as more entertainingly than any other, helps one to break away from the shadowland of demagogy in which the subjects of urban poverty and blight and discomfort are now bogged down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2008 4:51 PM
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