July 21, 2019


Bill Buckley and the Jews (Jonathan Tobin, 3/03/08, JewishWorldReview.com)

In order to give life to that movement, Buckley specifically chose to rid its ranks of people who espoused the sort of anti-Semitism that once was inescapable on the American right.

Buckley would himself acknowledge that prejudice was a presence in his own home growing up. And as a youngster, Buckley admitted that he was a fan of Charles Lindbergh and his "America First" movement, whose flirtation with anti-Semitism was of a piece with its advocacy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

But as National Review took flight in the late 1950s, anti-Semitic writers found themselves on the outside looking in. So, too, did apologists for the extremist John Birch Society.

But despite the fact that his conservatism was one that was informed by his own Catholic faith (something that was consistently made clear in the pages of National Review), Buckley made his journal, and by extension, the movement for which it served as an unofficial bible, off-limits to the anti-Semitism that was commonplace in the world in which he grew up.

Though he didn't always agree with all of its policies, Buckley was also a consistent supporter of Israel. A staunch anti-Communist, he was also deeply supportive of the movement to free Soviet Jewry at a time when many in this country (including some Jews) were loath to speak out because it might be interpreted as opposition to a policy of detente with Moscow.

Long after he chased the Birchers out of NR, Buckley found himself forced to confront the issue again. When longtime colleagues Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran used their bully pulpits on the right to bash Israel and stigmatize Jews for their support for the state, it was again Buckley who took on the haters.

Buckley repudiated Sobran's writing, which he labeled anti-Semitic, and pushed him off the magazine's masthead.

As the issue continued to percolate in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war in December 1991, he devoted an entire issue of the magazine to an essay titled "In Search of Anti-Semitism" (which was also the title of the book he later published on the same subject), in which he took on Buchanan, who was preparing an insurgent run for the White House against the first President Bush.

His conclusion was damning: "I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it," Buckley wrote.

Though Buchanan would continue to snipe away on television, it was largely Buckley's doing that he and others like him would do so from outside a perch in one of our two major parties rather than inside it.

How William F. Buckley, Jr., Changed His Mind on Civil Rights: The man who boasted he purged the conservative movement of 'kooks' and bigots was once a strong defender of racial discrimination--even violence. What changed? (Alvin Felzenberg, 5/13/17, Politico)

When the conservative editor and intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., ran for mayor of New York in 1965, he may have been the first conservative to endorse affirmative action, or, as he called it, "the kind of special treatment [of African Americans] that might make up for centuries of oppression." He also promised to crack down on labor unions that discriminated against minorities, a cause even his liberal opponents were unwilling to embrace. Buckley pointed out the inherent unfairness in the administration of drug laws and in judicial sentencing. He also advanced a welfare "reform" plan whose major components were job training, education and daycare.

In 1969, in his capacity as founding editor of National Review, launched a decade and a half earlier as a "conservative weekly journal of opinion" that stood in opposition to the dominant liberal ethos of the time, Buckley toured African-American neighborhoods in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Atlanta organized by the Urban League and afterward singled out for special praise "community organizers" who were working "in straightforward social work in the ghettos." In an article in Look magazine months later, Buckley anticipated that the United States could well elect an African-American president within a decade, and that this milestone would confer the same reassurance and social distinction upon African Americans that Roman Catholics had felt upon the election of John F. Kennedy. That, he said, would be "welcome tonic" for the American soul.

This Buckley, who emerged in the years after 1965, bore little resemblance to the one who, eight years earlier in 1957, had penned an editorial he titled "Why the South Must Prevail"--in which he declared the white race the more "advanced" race and, as such, the most fit to govern. What happened in those eight years that sparked this change in attitude and policy advocacy on Buckley's part? How did a man who later proclaimed his greatest legacy was keeping the conservative movement free of bigots, kooks and anti-Semites move past a nakedly racist editorial like that?

It was the convergence of political shifts--particularly in the South, where the more genteel, states' rights-focused politicians were giving way to more overtly racist, populist demagogues--and his own personal introspection, rooted particularly in his religious faith and his own intellectual concerns about the integrity of conservatism. Buckley's evolution makes for important context today, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election. As Republican standard-bearers struggle with how to discourage the alt-righters and white nationalists and new wave of populists that Donald Trump's campaign apparently surfaced, they might do well to pay attention to how exactly Buckley began his search and how he charted out a new course for conservatism at a time when polarization over civil rights threatened to tear the GOP apart.

"Why the South Must Prevail" is shocking to the 21st century reader. The piece put National Review on record in favor of both legal segregation where it existed (in accordance with the "states' rights" principle) and the right of southern whites to discriminate against southern blacks, on the basis of their "Negro backwardness." The editorial defended the right of whites to govern exclusively, even in jurisdictions where they did not constitute a majority of the population.

In the same op-ed, Buckley concluded that as long as African Americans remained "backward" in education and in economic progress, Southern whites had a right to "impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to affect a genuine cultural equality between the races." In defense of his position that whites, for the time being, remained the "more advanced race," Buckley pointed to the name a major civil rights organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had adopted for itself as evidence that its founders considered its constituents "less advanced." He offered no guidance as to how blacks might attain what he called "cultural equality," save for by the sufferance of the white population.

It's important to understand how Buckley rationalized such thinking because it's at the root of his later transformation. National Review justified its position on the grounds that whites were "the more advanced race," and as such were "entitled to rule." Buckley, the author of the editorial, made no mention of the role Southern whites had played, through the social and legal systems they had put into place, in keeping Southern blacks from rising to the point where he--or their white neighbors--would consider them "advanced" and therefore eligible to participate in the region's governance. He went so far as to condone the violence whites committed to perpetuate segregation.

National Review's opposition to federal civil rights legislation put it at odds not only with self-proclaimed "modern Republicans" such as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. (In 1957, years before he adopted the southern strategy, Nixon was one of the highest-profile defenders of civil rights in the Republican Party). But it also put him at odds with conservative Republicans, whom the magazine supported editorially, such as Senate Minority Leader William Knowland, the 1957 Civil Rights bill's primary sponsor.

Buckley's 1957 opposition to legislative and other attempts to enforce Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools unconstitutional, betrayed more than a defense of the rights of states to impose segregation and unequal treatment of citizens, but also his reservations about democracy's capacity to enhance freedom. In a subsequent editorial of "clarification," Buckley proposed in the name of racial equality an alternative to disenfranchising all African Americans on account of their race: All states should disenfranchise the uneducated of all races. He saw no reason to confine such practices to the South. In Buckley's view, too many ignorant people were being allowed to vote elsewhere.

As he contemplated the merits of the franchise and to whom to extend it, Buckley had restated views he had advanced while a student at Millbrook, his preparatory school. In a term paper he had written for his headmaster, Buckley maintained that uneducated voters might be manipulated by demagogues into surrendering some of their freedom in exchange for benefits raised through taxation of the citizenry. In staking out this position, Buckley was taking his place in a long line of conservative theorists beginning as far back as Aristotle, who saw in such democratic practices the roots of tyranny.

It was these intellectual currents that turned Buckley away from the Southern politicians of the time--and toward his reversal on civil rights.

Posted by at July 21, 2019 6:47 AM