July 18, 2011


A Liberal Reads the Great Conservative Works (Carl T. Bogus interviews himself, 7/18/11, National Review

Q. What was your favorite Buckley book, and why?

A. I liked best The Unmaking of a Mayor, Buckley’s memoir of his 1965 New York mayoral campaign. The book bursts with scintillating wit, but it’s Buckley’s position papers — set forth in full — that make the book truly special. They may be the most unusual position papers ever issued by a political candidate. Buckley had no chance of winning. He wasn’t running to win; he was running to promote conservatism, and to explore conservative approaches for urban problems. This left him free — truly free — to tell the truth as he saw it, regardless of how voters would react. While most position papers are written by campaign staffs or consultants, Buckley wrote his own. They are cast in his inimitable style (James Buckley, who was his brother’s campaign manager, confirmed for me that Bill penned them himself). Most of his proposals exhibit sophisticated research and analysis, yet are presented with elegant simplicity. Some of Buckley’s proposals might be characterized as liberal, such as constructing an elevated bikeway from 1st Street to 125th Street in Manhattan; some are outrageous: quarantining welfare recipients and drug addicts in what Buckley described as “great and humane rehabilitation centers” and his opponents called “concentration camps”; but most deal with mundane yet critically important urban problems, such as traffic congestion, public transit, water, and the like. Buckley had the rare gift of making even such prosaic topics interesting.

Q. In your opinion, what constitutes the canon of modern American conservatism?

A. There is, of course, no official list. But I think there is a consensus that at least half a dozen books deserve such a designation. In chronological order, they are: F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944), William F. Buckley Jr., God and Man at Yale (1951), Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953), Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), and Milton Friedman, Freedom and Capitalism (1962). [...]

Q. Which of the canonical works had the greatest impact on you?

A. Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. That was inevitable. Kirk argued that Burkeanism “is the true school of conservative principle,” and I happen to be an admirer of Edmund Burke. Indeed, I consider myself a liberal Burkean. If you think “liberal Burkean” is an oxymoron, you have never read Kirk, who repeatedly — convincingly — contends, in both The Conservative Mind and his biography of Edmund Burke, that Burke was both a conservative and a liberal. Anyone who appreciates the complexity of the world realizes that, to be truly wise, a philosophy must somehow embrace the best sentiments of both conservatism and liberalism.

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Posted by at July 18, 2011 5:33 PM

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