Why I ended my subscription to National Review

In a discussion a few weeks back, Paul Cella quoted from a magnificent speech given by William Buckley at West Point in the early 1970s denouncing John Kerry for his anti-Americanism. We discussed the sad decline of Buckley since then. Yesterday, we pointed to Buckley’s “modified limited hangout” on homosexual marriage, and one poster said that he is ending his 34-year-old subscription to National Review. I guess this is as good a moment as any to share the letter I wrote to Buckley in 1996 explaining why I had ended my subscription to NR:

July 18, 1996

William F. Buckley, Jr.
National Review
150 East 35th Street
New York, New York 10016

Dear Mr. Buckley:

I have received a letter from you asking me to renew my subscription to National Review, or let you know why I am not renewing. Since I have decided to end a subscription of many years’ standing, I hope you will not mind if I am very candid in explaining my reasons. At the outset let me admit that it is possible I’m not being entirely fair in what I am about to say; it may be that in some respects it is I who have changed, not NR. Still, it might do some good for you to hear my concerns.

First of all, I have been dissatisfied for years with the indifferent quality of much of the writing in NR. By the standards of any other major opinion magazine, I find very few of NR’s articles to be truly well-shaped, well-argued, well-edited, or compelling. Whatever the reasons for it,—could it be the existence of a large, loyal readership?—NR’s editors seem to have the feeling that they don’t have to try very hard.

The same general lack of seriousness and purpose can be seen in NR’s tone and philosophy. NR’s characteristically detached, laid-back, and often frivolous mood is, in my opinion, an inadequate and inappropriate response to the civilizational disaster in which we find ourselves (which is not to say that wit does not have its place in an intellectual magazine). At bottom, the problem is that NR-style conservatism is not, as it should be and once was, the articulation and defense of the civilization of European man; rather it seems to be the expression of people who are doing ok themselves, and who look upon the collapse of our civilization as something that does not quite affect them. Certainly it arouses no passion in them.

In short, NR is the organ, not of a counterrevolutionary resistance to liberalism, but of a self-regarding establishment. As a symbol of this mentality, consider the advertisement in the June 17th issue promoting “National Review’s 1996 Post-Election Luxury Cruise,” where one is invited to hob-nob with you and a “galaxy of conservative stars.” While there is nothing wrong with like-minded people getting together to have a good time, the notion of conservative leaders as “stars,” as centers of a coterie of fans rather than as leaders in a war against liberalism, suggests a lack of true seriousness.

If NR does have a genuine raison d’etre, it is to nudge the Republican party a bit to the right, a cause NR has pursued with admirable consistency and devotion. But has not experience shown this to be a futile and debilitating enterprise? Is it not now apparent (perhaps it has always been apparent) that the Republican party, at bottom, will never be anything other than the party of money—i.e., of Oligarchic or Economic Man who (as Plato demonstrates in Book VIII of The Republic) is nudged aside by Democratic Man who is then supplanted by Tyrannical Man? That the Republican party simply constitutes the “right” wing of the Revolution of which the Democratic party constitutes the “moderate left” wing? That the Republican party, in short, will not defend our nationality and civilization from the Left because it shares the Left’s basic premises of radical individualism, egalitarianism, feminism, One-Worldism and all the rest? Is it not time, therefore, for genuine conservatives—for people who believe in the civilization and traditions of European man, not just in capitalism and democracy—to disengage themselves from the Republican party?

I’d like to add that National Review deserves credit for keeping its sights steadily focused on the immigration issue, even if failing to discuss it (particularly the demographic and cultural consequences) with the urgency and honesty it requires.

In each issue of National Review, I do find one or two worthwhile—i.e., necessary—articles. For this, I can read NR in my neighborhood library.

In making the above criticisms, I don’t mean to single out NR. At present, one searches in vain for a magazine on the right that is remotely satisfactory to the urgencies of our time.

Cordially, if regretfully,

Lawrence Auster

cc: John O’Sullivan


Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 08, 2003 12:54 AM | Send
    
Comments

Mr. Auster:

I agree with your assessment of the Republican Party, but I find myself voting for their candidates at each election. Other than expressing my opinions to office holders on issues and pieces of pending legislation (which I do), and voting for Republicans, what do you recommend we do?

In other words, what does the phrase “disengage themselves from the Republican Party” entail?

Thanks for your time.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on August 23, 2003 10:28 AM

It means, for one thing, generally not voting for Republican candidates. I am not a registered Republican, I haven’t voted for the Republican candidate in the last two presidential elections, and I have no intention of doing so in the next election, even though I fully recognize that a Republican loss would bring an evil traitorous Democratic party to national power. If conservatives withdrew their support for the Republicans, that would mean Democratic victories in the short term, but the development of a more principled conservative national party in the medium to long term.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on August 23, 2003 10:58 AM

In the last presidential election I entered the voting booth intending to vote for Bush but just couldn’t do it, once inside. I’m pretty sure I voted for Howard Phillips. (Of course, in the constitutional crisis that followed, in which the Dems tried to steal the election, I wholly supported Bush vis-à-vis Gore.)

Knowing who waits in the wings to replace Bush (Hillary), it is hard to decide whether or not to reward the GOP with one’s vote next time around, after Pres. Bush and Karl Rove have essentially told conservatives to get lost (as far as domestic issues are concerned, they certainly have).

Here’s a self-explanatory response written by Richard Poe to a few of my “bellyaching-about-Bush” comments which were posted at the RichardPoe.com Readers’ Forum. Poe’s reply here was so well-put that I’ve more or less decided to carry a copy of it in my pocket when I go to vote, so that it’ll steel me for doing what I have to do: voting for Bush when the marking pen is actually in my hand.

(But let Bush, Rove, and the GOP establishment be warned: you are perilously close to alienating enough of your conservative base to go down to utter defeat. Keep it up if you dare, gentlemen.)

The following is Richard Poe’s very level-headed — and even very wise — rejoinder to me.

“Dear Unadorned:

“Having read all three of your links, I confess that I am still in the dark.

“Unadorned, I am just as capable as you of generating weighty complaints against Bush and his men. Yet, no matter how long the list grows, I cannot for the life of me imagine what offense they could commit that would be so grave as to move me to yearn for a power shift to the Dems — and possibly even to Hillary Clinton herself — in 2004.

“Are you under the impression that Hillary would take a stronger stand on immigration than Bush? Or do you just feel that eight more years of Clintonian globalism would teach Republicans a lesson and make them change their ways by 2012?

“Either way, I think you would be disappointed in your hope.

“As far as I can tell, when it comes to immigration, the principal difference between the Bush and Clinton eras appears to be that immigration reformers are accorded more mainstream respect today than they were formerly — even if their recommendations are still disregarded.

“This may seem an insubstantial difference, but the ability to speak freely on a topic should not be underestimated. A former Soviet dissident once told me that he believes Gorbachev doomed the USSR the moment he legalized freedom of the press — and moreover, that Gorbachev did so knowingly, fully aware that open criticism of the government would lead inexorably to the collapse of the Soviet ruling class.

“Far be it from me to suggest that either Bush or Rove would be capable of such selfless or far-seeing impulses as some Soviet dissidents have ascribed to Mikhail Gorbachev [sarcasm], but don’t you think it is possible that right-thinking people might have a little better chance of organizing, networking and getting our message out in an America that is at least temporarily free of Clintonian tyranny?

“If we are going to get ourselves out of this mess, we will need cool, strategic thinking, not white-hot emotion.”


Posted by: Unadorned on August 23, 2003 12:06 PM

Hegelian Mambo again. By standing infinitesimally to the right of the extreme lefties Bush sweeps in all the conservatives. Cha cha cha!

Posted by: Matt on August 23, 2003 12:17 PM

I disagree with Richard Poe on this. I don’t think we are about to lose the freedom of speech. On the contrary, conservatives under Bush have been self-silencing, refusing to oppose any of Bush’s leftward moves out of fear of “dividing the GOP” in the face of the evil left. The result is to castrate conservatism. By contrast, if the left came to power again, conservatives would once again speak their minds. So, it would seem that the only way for conservatives to have the freedom of speech that Poe is concerned about is to have the Democrats in office.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on August 23, 2003 12:47 PM

“It means, for one thing, generally not voting for Republican candidates. I am not a registered Republican, I haven’t voted for the Republican candidate in the last two presidential elections, and I have no intention of doing so in the next election, even though I fully recognize that a Republican loss would bring an evil traitorous Democratic party to national power. If conservatives withdrew their support for the Republicans, that would mean Democratic victories in the short term, but the development of a more principled conservative national party in the medium to long term.”


I couldnt agree more.

Posted by: Peter Phillips on August 23, 2003 4:19 PM
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