Brimelow on Buckley, Nordlinger on Buckley

Peter Brimelow’s article on the passing of William Buckley has some sharp insights into Buckley’s notable failings and their impact on conservatism and the immigration issue. Unfortunately, the piece is also marred by nasty, spiteful, and belittling personal comments, in the opening paragraphs and especially in the title, that cast a pall over the piece as a whole. At the same time, as I’ve said, the piece has many worthwhile observations. Below, I’ve organized quotes from the article into two groups, those that express a poisonous personal dislike of Buckley of a kind that in my opinion should not have seen print, and those that make strongly critical but defensible and, it seems to me, mostly true statements about him.

Should not have been published

  • [The article’s title:] “William F. Buckley, Jr., RIP—Sort Of”

  • “[N]ot the least evidence of Buckley’s unmistakable effeminate streak was a viciousness that showed in his flouting of such comforting conventions…”

  • “Just as the gangsters in The Godfather reassured each other that their bloody clashes were just business, not personal, I’d say that my disagreement with Buckley was fundamentally political, although I do consider his character to have been among the most contemptible I have encountered in public life.”

  • “However, I must also note that Buckley himself was extraordinarily, almost hysterically, sensitive to criticism.”

Strongly critical but reasonable

  • “It was his personal failings that ultimately accounted for the four-decade fizzle of his once-brilliant career—and for the fact that, regularly credited with the making of the modern conservative movement, he must also be indicted for its breaking.”

  • “Above all, he must also be indicted for the breaking, through out-of-control post-1965 mass immigration, of the nation that some of us thought the conservative movement was sworn to defend.”

  • “From the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951, through the founding of National Review in 1955, to his brilliant New York mayoralty race in 1965, rallying the conservative movement after the Goldwater disaster and discovering the crucial Reagan Democrats, he rode the wave of history. After that, despite the potboilers and the celebrity, he achieved nothing.”

  • “What really surprised me then, and in subsequent years, was Buckley’s complete lack of interest in political debate…. Then, and as long as I was invited to his table (which abruptly ceased after John O’Sullivan’s firing as editor in 1997), his conversation remained stunningly trivial.”

  • “In fact, I can see absolutely no relationship between the scintillating Buckley I had read about … and the spaced-out Buckley I knew after 1976.”

  • “My joking theory: sometime after his New York City mayoralty race against John Lindsay in 1965 and his brother James’ victory in the New York Senate race in 1970, Bill Buckley was taken over by an alien from outer space. He simply ceased to function in a political sense, although his ego remained insatiable.”

  • “Those of us who were personally injured by Buckley’s betrayal [on immigration] were obviously vitally interested in this story [Buckley’s firing of John O’Sullivan]. We took enormous professional risks to broach the immigration issue. We were left, not merely without defense, but subject to poisonous abuse by the very opportunists and Republican publicists whom Buckley appointed to run the magazine in O’Sullivan’s stead.”

  • “But Buckley’s betrayal was not without wider significance. It raises the question of whether the current National Review editors’ belated opposition to the Kennedy-Bush-McCain Amnesty/Immigration Surge bill was anything more than an opportunistic effort to insert themselves at the head of a parade, which they will abandon when their assessment of their career requirements shifts. After all, the amnesty they now congratulate themselves on opposing was the monomaniacal obsession of a president they slavishly supported, although his views were obvious.”

  • “For the plain fact, politely unmentioned in most Buckley obituaries, is that Buckley and National Review have been complicit in leading the conservative movement, the Republican Party and the country into utter disaster. Conservatives have essentially nothing to show for their moment in power except two completely unexpected colonial wars in the Middle East. And this year’s elections are widely expected to be a generational catastrophe.”

Here is the most surprising item in the article. Brimelow suggests that Buckley’s firing of O’Sullivan and of Brimelow had nothing to do with immigration!

Rose Friedman came to the point immediately. “It’s the Alaska cruise”, she said. The Friedmans were regular attractions on National Review conference cruises, major money-makers for the magazine. And they had noticed that Buckley had been embarrassingly upstaged by O’Sullivan, who—whatever his other faults—is a wonderful extemporaneous speaker….

Buckley had had no particular second thoughts about patriotic immigration reform—National Review had after all opposed the flood-unleashing 1965 Immigration Act, although it then fell silent. He was not particularly committed to war in Iraq, which he abandoned before his death, embarrassing his own editors. He was not, at least in the thirty years I knew him, particularly interested in ideas at all, and certainly not capable of the focused effort to required to master new ones.

What really motivated Buckley was ego and vanity. The current editors of National Review say: “If ever an institution were the lengthened shadow of one man, this publication is his.”

I agree.

The vanity theory of WFB’s firing of O’S is interesting, but Brimelow does not present enough evidence to make it persuasive or even plausible. First, Buckley was famous for his generosity toward other conservatives and his NR colleagues in particular. Would he not have extended the same generosity toward his own chosen successor? Second, Buckley hired O’Sullivan as editor in the late 1980s and kept him as editor for eight or nine years. Does it really seem believable that all at once Buckley got so jealous of O’Sullivan for his speaking abilities that he fired him, and also fired Brimelow—O’Sullivan’s ally on the National Question—at the same time? Did Buckley, by sheer coincidence, fire Brimelow for reasons of vanity? (It certainly couldn’t have been because he was envious of Brimelow’s public speaking abilities, as Brimelow is well known for mumbling his way through a talk.) Or are we supposed to believe that Buckley fired O’Sullivan purely out of vanity, and then fired Brimelow as well, since the two were friends?

In the past, as best I remember, Brimelow had said that Buckley’s new neocon allies pushed him to scotch the National Question, and so he dismissed the O’Sullivan/Brimelow team and handed the magazine over to the intellectually vacuous and unformed Richard Lowry, under whose editorship NR went completely silent on immigration for several years. To all appearances it was a political purge aimed at changing NR’s political direction. I cannot imagine why Brimelow would now suddenly put forth this vanity theory of Buckley’s motivations, for which he doesn’t give enough evidence to make it believable, and which trivializes what happened, unless it is because it fits this present article which is in large part an expression of personal hatred rather than of political disagreement—a hatred, Brimelow plainly suggests in a passage I have not quoted, that was triggered by a shocking social snub by Buckley of Brimelow at the time of Brimelow’s late wife’s surgery.

* * *

One other observation. Given O’Sullivan’s own demonstrable lack of a sense of urgency about and even of much interest in the immigration question in the decade since he left NR (though he did have an article on the subject in the American Conservative last year), it is my guess that the real impetus for NR’s historic shift to immigration restrictionism under O’Sullivan’s editorship came from Brimelow himself, who was both O’Sullivan’s personal friend and a member of the editorial board at the time. I think that Brimelow supplied the intellectual influence and energy that moved O’Sullivan toward restrictionism, and that, when their active partnership ended with the firing of the two of them, O’Sullivan lost much of his concern about the issue, because the concern had not come from within himself, but from Brimelow.

That’s my theory.

* * *

Another point. Brimelow mentions in the article something about O’Sullivan that explains a lot. It seems that at the time of O’Sullivan’s dismissal as editor of NR, a severance package was worked out in which O’Sullivan, apparently in exchange for both money and a continuing relationship with NR, a relationship that continues to this day, would not say anything public about the circumstances of his firing. At the same time, we know that Brimelow has carried intense personal resentment of Buckley for the past 11 years over O’Sullivan’s and his firing. Given O’Sullivan’s bought graciousness toward Buckley whom Brimelow now hated, as well as O’Sullivan’s continuing presence at NR as an impotent elder statesman among the teeny-cons who had replaced him and Brimelow, it would be predictable that something of a rift would open between the two men. Clear evidence of a rift is seen in Brimelow’s comment that

Buckley had been embarrassingly upstaged by O’Sullivan, who—whatever his other faults—is a wonderful extemporaneous speaker…. [Italics added.]

Brimelow would not have made that gratuitous swipe about O’Sullivan’s “other faults” if he were still on good terms with him.

- end of initial entry -

Gerald Martin of Dallas, Texas writes:

I too, found Peter Brimelow’s savage indictment of Buckley’s character disturbing, and perhaps not altogether believable. But it brought back some memories of my own encounter—of sorts—with Buckley, which took place decades ago.

In 1979 I was an Army officer at Ft. Hood, Texas. The post-Vietnam, Carter era Army was a mess. It couldn’t have fought its way out of a paper bag, riddled as it was by black on white racial violence and criminality, low discipline standards, incompetent NCO’s (most often black), affirmative action promotions, feminist social engineering which put female soldiers into jobs they couldn’t handle, careerist “head in the sand” attitudes among field grade and higher ranking officers, and an absolute refusal to face honestly its problems on the part of the generals, who blamed the troubles on us, the company grade officers.

I wrote an essay about all this and mailed it to National Review—to which I had subscribed since the age of 15—hoping they might publish it or at least use it as source material for an expose. (The Carter administration was claiming the new volunteer Army was a great success.) A few weeks later I received a phone call from an Army lawyer, a major who was also a writer for NR, informing me he had been assigned to work with me in getting my essay published, performing the role of editor and advisor. In other words, my work had been accepted! I was about to become an author!

Or so I thought.

My editor said that Buckley, while interested in my manuscript, had serious problems with it (i.e., it was “too overtly racial”). He offered to rewrite some parts, focusing more on institutional, less on personnel, issues. He ended up completely transforming the original essay into something I could barely recognize, and could not honestly call my own, but bitten by the “wannabe writer” bug, I accepted it, and we agreed to co-authorship. The draft went through many revisions, cleared many hurdles, but months, then a year, went by and it still wasn’t published. In our phone conversations, I could tell my collaborator (who had enthusiastically called our final draft a “stick of dynamite”) was getting frustrated. The NR office staff was giving him the run-around and WFB, who made all final decisions on what to print, was unreachable. He asked me to call and try to get through to Buckley.

I called but got no further than Joe Sobran, who told me that everyone in the publishing chain of command at NR had approved our article, which was now, he claimed, sitting on Buckley’s desk. Sobran believed it would appear in the next issue, two weeks hence.

It never did. Buckley squelched it (Sobran’s words, in a subsequent phone call). No one at NR could ever explain to us why, though we asked them. The major and I each received $200, and a truncated, pathetically mal-edited version of the article eventually appeared in THE NEW GUARD, the house organ of Young Americans for Freedom, but my “career” with National Review was over. The major, disillusioned by this experience, quit soon after. I spent time wondering why Buckley jerked us around for so long before kicking us into file 13. I finally decided it was because I insisted on leaving in a few references to the black barracks gangs (then running amok on most Army bases) and to affirmative action promotions.

But after reading what Brimelow had to say about WFB, I think I may have been wrong. I think Buckley may have squelched our article … because he could.

LA replies:

I’ve had some terrible experiences with unethical editors in my life, but that is one of the worst stories I’ve ever heard. To accept the piece, and to have you work on it over a year, and then to kill it. It’s unforgivable.

And your interpretation, adopting Brimelow’s interprations that Buckley did things like this out of vanity rather than out of conviction, while provocative, seems plausible. After all, if Buckley was so against any article touching on race, he should have said no to the article at the start. For him to have you do all that work, and then change his mind, does suggest what you said: he did it, because he could.

Gerald Martin continues:
Brimelow alluded to the lack of substantive conversation at the great man’s dinner table as evidence of his lack of interest in conservative ideas. Come to think of it, I have similar evidence, from a source which many consider as proof of Buckley’s intellectual seriousness: his TV show, Firing Line. Although touted by PBS and Buckley acolytes as a high minded exchange of ideas and debate with formidable liberal adversaries, it was seldom more than a schmooze fest and contest in one upsmanship. Though the show often had an interesting (and important) topic of discussion, it was almost never seriously addressed by either WFB or his guest, who seemed more interested in their own brilliant repartee and witty putdowns of each other. I complained about this once, in a note to Buckley’s sister (who, if I remember correctly, handled his Firing Line mail), pointing out that Buckley was wasting one of the rare opportunities conservatives had in those days to sell their ideas to the public. She politely replied that she had passed my note to Bill.

And nothing changed.

So the more I think about it; the more I reflect and remember, the more I’m forced to agree with Brimelow, nasty and unbalanced as his view of Buckley may be.

Alex K. writes:

I don’t think Brimelow is changing his previously given reason for O’Sullivan’s firing. I think he’s suggesting a reason for the, in his words, “completeness of the post-O’Sullivan takeover.” He mentions the dropping of his War on Christmas competition and in general the way that “conservatives have essentially nothing to show for their moment in power except unexpected colonial wars.” He says Buckley and NR are complicit in all this, the gelding of conservatism, not just the immigration issue. So he’s suggesting that the reason is personal and that he’s not alone—e.g., Rose Friedman—in seeing Buckley as capable of doing this. I think he would still say that the pressure on the immigration issue specifically is what actually prompted the firing (so that Rose Friedman was technically mistaken on the specific news she was reacting to), but that the completeness of the NR makeover, including his own termination, was personal. And since Buckley didn’t particularly oppose O’Sullivan on immigration, but was only responding to pressure, even that is of one with the rest of it, Buckley’s need to ingratiate.

So that’s what I assumed from reading it. I wouldn’t know if my idea is correct, and Brimelow could have been clearer, but I’ll say this: the modern NR is not just weak on immigration. It really is as Brimelow describes it, the kind of magazine that you would expect to be deeply complicit in a conservative moment that accomplished nothing but pointless colonial war and impending electoral disaster. And Buckley made it that way.

LA replies:

This is a very clear and helpful addition to what I wrote. Thank you.

Spencer Warren writes:

Brimelow goes overboard on the personal animosity; it doesn’t look good in print.

The fact that O’S went quietly, evidently to collect a severance payment, Brimelow implies, would, if accurate, reflect badly on O’S’ as a true conservative. O’S has been quiet ever since about this episode, which so damaged the conservative cause and our country. Brimelow also calls O’S up short for not mentioning this in his American Conservative article.

Buckley gave a speech on Churchill to the Churchill Fan Club (a/k/a the Churchill Society) about seven years ago. It was awful—obviously just B.S.-sing off the top of his head at their annual dinner.

Buckley was a very strange person, don’t you think? I think there was less than met the eye; he used his odd manner to cover up the emptiness.

Mr. Warren contineus:

It is great that you have given so much attention to this issue, which encompasses the present crisis of conservatism, though one would never know it from the mainstream conservative publications or the talk-show fools.

My last e-mail was written before I read your blog entry on Brimelow’s article and I see that you and I had the same reaction to it.

The incident he describes about Buckley’s snub at the time of Brimelow’s late wife’s surgery is the type of thing that, however angry one is, it doesn’t look good in print.

Vincent Chiarello writes:

I, too, thought that Peter Brimelow’s obit of WFB was a bit over the top, and wrote him about the unnecessarily belligerent tone of his article, and criticism that seemed too personal.

I also believe that too much of Peter’s criticism centered on bad behavior on Buckley’s part. After the death of his wife, Peter wrote me that Buckley never sent a condolence card; that rankled Peter, and, obviously, still does.

Perhaps had he waited “a decent interval” to write the obit it would not have been as bellicose…perhaps.

In the last analysis, what was missing from Peter’s broadside was the gift of charity, something we should all consider when we write about others, especially at the time of their death.

Gintas writes:

Buckley, in summation, seems an odd sort to build and maintain a conservative movement. How did he build it? He sure didn’t maintain it. Did he build a Conservative movement, or just a “Win The Cold War” movement? You’d think a conservative movement based on the Permanent Things would have outlasted the Cold War a little.

LA replies:

This is one of the best comments I’ve seen on modern conservatism.

Jack S. writes:

Compare this piece by Jay Nordlinger to Brimelow’s. Nordlinger sets a new standard for sycophants everywhere. An example:

“Was there ever a better smile—a smile that lit up several counties around it? Never has wattage been higher. David Pryce-Jones once remarked on this. When you have been smiled at by Bill Buckley: You have been well and truly smiled at.”

and so on for three pages.

I say this as one who just paid $25.00 for a signed copy of Nordlinger’s new book .

LA replies:

A smile that lit up several counties? I mean, we could think of a smile that lights up a room, or, if we really reached, maybe a smile that lights up a neighborhood. But what would a smile be like that lights up several counties? It’s as if Nordlinger is saying the physical universe dissolved into joy when William Buckley smiled at him. How do we characterize a person who could come up with such a thought, and is not embarrassed at publishing it?

And how about this from Nordlinger:

“He was my friend long, long before I met him—one of my best friends, I’d say. He was my friend through his books. I simply drank them in, and they comforted me, educated me, thrilled me. I would tell him this frequently.” [Emphasis added.]

Now think what this means. Nordlinger is one of the uber lightweights of the conservative movement. Yet he “drank Buckley’s books in,” which comforted him, thrilled him, and, needless to say, formed him. What does that say about Buckley’s conservatism?

Furthermore, imagine what it’s like having someone frequently tell you that he has simply drunk in your books, and that your books have comforted him, educated him, thrilled him. Nordlinger reveals to us the decadent thing that conservatism has become. It’s no longer about God, truth, America, the Constitution, the West. It’s about unrestrained hero worship—of a Podhoretz, a Buckley, a Busheroni.

Spencer Warren writes:

Nordlinger writes:

“[Buckley] simply seeps into your bloodstream.”

Anyone familiar with Nordlinger’s writing knows that, as we see here, he suffers from diarrhea of the pen. I have read his music “criticism” from time to time in The New Criterion and The New York Sun. He has no qualifications to be writing on classical music; he is an enthusiast, but no critic. As in this ludicrous piece of Buckley sycophancy, there are lots of words signifying nothing. He has written in The New Criterion that conductors of our time like James Levine rank with the titans like Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954), a claim that any knowledgeable person would laugh out of court. He has written that we live in a golden age of singers, another absurd claim. I refer interested readers to leading journals of music criticism like Gramophone and Classic Record Collector, or to the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs (see the entries in the latter on the boxed Wagner and Schubert EMI historical editions, which bemoan the decline in vocal standards compared to the period before the 1960’s). The latter has gone through multiple editions, dating back to 1960 with the three same authors since about 1964. It is very highly respected.

The fact that a person like Nordlinger has a high position at National Review, and is the music critic for an intellectual journal like The New Criterion, is a pathetic example of the precipitate dumbing down of standards throughout our culture, even among the “conservatives” whose supposed mission it is to oppose that dumbing down.

Steven Warshawsky writes:

Spencer Warren’s ad hominem diatribe against Jay Nordlinger is a disgrace. To argue that Nordlinger is “unqualified” to offer music criticism is ridiculous. Nordlinger has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, attends performances regularly, and knows many of the people active in the industry. He also is an insightful and evocative writer. By what standard is he not qualified to be a critic? Mr. Warren clearly does not like Nordlinger’s style or opinions—which largely is a matter of taste and perspective—but plenty of intelligent people do. Or is Mr. Warren suggesting that everyone at The National Review, The Sun, and The New Criterion, among other publications, is mistaken in the high esteem they hold Nordlinger? Just a bunch of dumbed-down fools, right? Absurd. Yes, Jay is a friend of mine. Regardless, the viciousness directed towards him by Mr. Warren is completely without justification.

LA replies:

I know nothing about Nordlinger’s abilities as a music critic. But I see nothing in Mr. Warren’s strong criticisms of Nordlinger that is ad hominem, and nothing that could be fairly described as a disgrace. He says that Nordlinger is an enthusiast, not a critic, and that Nordlinger has woefully wrong opinions on matters on which Mr. Warren has opposing opinions. I don’t see how there’s anything disgraceful in expressing the opinion that Nordlinger has very off-base opinions about music. Also, much tougher criticisms of Nordlinger were expressed in this thread by persons other than Mr. Warren.

Spencer Warren writes:

I invite readers to read the distinguished sources cited in my comment and then compare them with Nordlinger’s music writing. They will see that Nordlinger is superficial in the extreme and does not explain with musical analysis the reasons for his opinions; he tends just to throw adjectives around. Perhaps Nordlinger does have in-depth knowledge of music, but his breezy journalistic approach reads more like a TV Guide movies summary than intelligent music criticism. Nordlinger’s comparing of Levine to Furtwangler, and his view on the current state of the vocal art, are not matters only of opinion. Comparing Levine favorably to Furtwangler who, with Toscanini, is very widely regarded as the greatest and most profound of all conductors, is like comparing a competent president like Gerald Ford to Lincoln. It is surprising that any conservative would invoke “opinion” to deny objective value. That is the kind of subjectivism that VFR is often criticizing. Mr. Warshawsky does not even address my specific examples.

Nordlinger’s comments on the late William Buckley speak for themselves as to how seriously he should be viewed as a writer.

Steven Warshawsky replies:

What was disgraceful, in my opinion, was the intemperate and vituperative nature of Mr. Warren’s comments. He was not simply expressing disagreement, or even dislike. He was expressing disdain. There is no reason whatsoever to have disdain for Jay Nordlinger, whether as a music critic or as a political commentator. (This applies to other comments in this thread.) Disdain is a harsh and ugly emotion, which should be reserved for the truly low and despicable. There are plenty of low and despicable people in our society. Jay Nordlinger is hardly one of them.

Furthermore, I am forced to question Mr. Warren’s judgment when he writes that “the fact that a person like Nordlinger has a high position at National Review, and is the music critic for an intellectual journal like The New Criterion, is a pathetic example of the precipitate dumbing down of standards throughout our culture, even among the “conservatives” whose supposed mission it is to oppose that dumbing down.”

Even assuming Mr. Warren is justified in his intellectual and aesthetic assessment of the quality of Nordlinger’s work, the above statement—which, in effect, lumps Nordlinger’s work together with trash TV, rap music, and the other detritus of popular culture—reflects an appalling lack of perspective and priority. Does Mr. Warren honestly believe, for example, that The New Criterion is participating in “the precipitate dumbing down of standards throughout our culture”? Absurd.

As for Mr. Warren’s invocation of “objective” values to bolster his personal opinions in the realm of music criticism, all I can say is that I would love to see someone demonstrate the existence of such “objective” values. I imagine Mr. Warren has strong opinions about, for example, whether Bach or Mozart or Beethoven (or some other composer) is the greatest of all time, or whether Mozart or Verdi or Rossini or Wagner (or some other composer) wrote the greatest operas. I have my own opinions about these questions. But I do not believe there is any “objective” truth to the matter.

LA replies:

Surely Mr. W. is familiar with my unrelentingly critical stance toward the NRO people, whom, among expressions, I’ve described as teeny-cons. Surely this can’t be the first time he’s noticed the quality he’s calling disdain at VFR toward establishment conservatives? (I wouldn’t call it disdain, I’d call it truthful and sincere indignation).

And does Mr. W. really want to appear as though he’s saying that there’s nothing of the ridiculous about Nordlinger’s comments about Buckley (“a smile that lit up several counties,” “I frequently told him how his books thrilled me”)?

And then, topping it off, Nordlinger approvingly quotes what is perhaps the most embarrassingly sycophantic/worshipful statement I’ve ever seen, by David Pryce-Jones:

“When you have been smiled at by Bill Buckley: You have been well and truly smiled at.”

This makes me almost gag. You’d think that a normal man would be embarrassed to say something like that, let alone to go out of his way to quote approvingly another man saying it. But, as I’ve catalogued in recent years, there is no limit to this kind of thing among the establishment conservatives. They are at bottom not intellectual or political men; they are groupies—groupies both in the “fan” sense, and in the sense of living their whole lives as members of a self-regarding in-group. And these facts are central to why conservatism has gone so badly south.

And who, as we can now see, was most instrumental in turning conservatism into that “fan” phenomenon? WFB.

BTW, I made a similar observation in my 1996 letter to WFB explaining why I was letting my subscription to NR run out. I said that the conservative movement of which he was the leader seemed to be more about worshipping celebrity conservative “stars” than about opposing liberalism and defending our civilization.

Spencer Warren writes:

Mr. Warshawsky writes:

I imagine Mr. Warren has strong opinions about, for example, whether Bach or Mozart or Beethoven (or some other composer) is the greatest of all time, or whether Mozart or Verdi or Rossini or Wagner (or some other composer) wrote the greatest operas. I have my own opinions about these questions. But I do not believe there is any “objective” truth to the matter.

First, I was invoking the opinions of many respected critics who have much, much more experience than Mr. Nordlinger, critics with which Mr. Warshawsky appears to be unfamiliar.

Second, the question of Bach vs. Mozart, etc as the greatest composer is totally different from assessing the relative merits of James Levine vs. Furtwangler, a point Mr. Warshawsky still will not address. Mr. Nordlinger’s comment on this was absurd, as any knowledgeable person would agree. Such silly opinions have no place in a respectable journal. And Mr. Warshawsky should recognize that his defense of Mr. Nordlinger amounts to the relativistic argument that one cannot find truth in art. Does Mr. Warshawsky believe one cannot prove that Lincoln was much greater than Gerald Ford?

Evariste writes:

Gintas’s comment on Buckleyite conservatism’s seeming inability to outlast the Cold War is indeed one of the best comments I’ve seen in a while.

You write:

And then, topping it off, Nordlinger approvingly quotes what is perhaps the most embarrassingly sycophantic/worshipful statement I’ve ever seen …

“When you have been smiled at by Bill Buckley: You have been well and truly smiled at.”

… as I’ve catalogued in recent years, there is no limit to this kind of thing among the establishment conservatives. They are at bottom not intellectual or political men; they are groupies—groupies both in the “fan” sense, and in the sense of living their whole lives as members of a self-regarding in-group. And these facts are central to why conservatism has gone so badly south.

And here I thought it was only Little Green Footballs, which is the first thing I thought of when I read that. That place is such a hotbed of hero worship, of Bush, of Charles Johnson, of Podhoretz and the rest of the neocons. It must be because I haven’t had the breadth of experience observing modern conservatism that you have that I’m surprised to see that my specialized observations of LGF, which seems to me something like a fevered, Democratic Underground-like swamp for mindless, hero-worshipping, anti-intellectual conservatives, actually apply to the entire conservative spectrum.

LA replies:

As a total non-reader of LGF (except during Johnson’s attack on Vlaams Belang and Brussels Journal last fall), I thank you for adding to our picture of modern conservatism.

Jed W. writes:

I found the Brimelow obit a bit unhinged and I’m not a big Buckley fan for some of the reasons Brimelow dislikes him.

With regard to your analysis of the obit, I would have added to your “Should Not Have Been Published” list this quote where he coins the phrase “Israel-First Likudniks.” The term implies that if you support Israel, then it is to the detriment of the U.S. (hence the word “first” ). Here’s the quote.

“Why did Buckley fire O’Sullivan? Why did he let his magazine, founded to oppose the (Eisenhower!) Republican Establishment of its day, and which he claimed in its 1955 Mission Statement stands athwart History, yelling Stop, be so completely captured by a combination of Republican publicists, Israel-First Likudniks and the cultural establishment?”

What these anti-Israel (and I think vaguely anti-Semitic) conservatives don’t grasp is that Israel is on the front lines against the Jihad and if Israel is destroyed, it won’t satisfy and quiet the Jihadist barbarians. Rather it will infuse them with a such a sense of power that they will be even more difficult to stop.

Finally, Brimelow’s complaint about National Review’s being in thrall to Israel is quite ironic since Buckley had turned against Israel in some of his last writings on the subject.

LA replies:

I’m glad you reminded me of this. When I was reading the article I saw that “Likudnik” cheap shot and my heart sank and I thought, “So Brimelow is part of the paleocon anti-Israel chorus too”—which is not exactly a surprise, since Brimelow has been publishing paleocon anti-Israelites for years.

For American nationalist right-wingers to attribute to Americans who support Israel’s right to exist the name of an Israeli party that stands for Israel’s right to exist, and to use that name in such a way as to suggest that there is something sinister and anti-American about defending Israel’s right to exist, is hard to account for in any way that looks good. To smear and thus delegitimize Israel in order to smear the neocons (who are the real object of the paleocons’ hate) may not be anti-Semitism, but it sure as hell looks like it.

Of course, the paleocons will say that they don’t oppose Israel’s right to exist, rather they are opposing Jewish neoconservatives who place Israel’s interests above America’s, which is what they mean by “Israel-first Likudniks.” Their main “evidence” for this charge is the supposed fact, endlessly repeated in paleocon publications, that the “real” reason for the invasion of Iraq was to defend Israel’s interests, not what Persident Bush said was his purpose, which was to eliminate Iraqi WMDs and to turn Iraq into a model of democracy for the Muslim world. It wasn’t enough for the paleocons to attack Bush for his deluded, destructive policy of fighting a “war” by “spreading democracy” in Muslim countries that are inherently incompatible with democracy. No, the paleocons had to accuse Bush of the worst treason in American history by a U.S. president, namely that, under the influence of the traitorous Jewish neoconservatives, he had spent a year persuading America to go to war on false premises, when his real reason was to help a foreign, Jewish country. Remember that the paleocons have said, over and over, that the American soldiers who have died and been maimed in Iraq have died and been maimed for Israel’s sake.

Adding to the viciousness is the cluelessness. The paleocons are so immersed in their anti-neocon, anti-Israel prejudices that they haven’t noticed (1) that Israel was not pushing for the invasion of Iraq, American neoconservatives were (Israel had more pressing threats than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq); (2) that the invasion of Iraq has done nothing to improve Israeli security; and (3) that Likud has been shoved aside by the national-suicidal Olmert party and has been powerless to stop (and perhaps has stopped trying to stop) the retreat from Gaza and other Israeli acts of appeasement that have encouraged Israel’s Arab enemies.

Further, these clueless paleocons haven’t noticed that the neocons for several years now have relegated their concern about Israel’s security to the back burner in order to embrace Bush’s Democracy Project, which, under the criminally deluded belief that Arab “democracy” will end Arab terrorism, pushes Israel to accept Palestinian statehood and make other concessions to the Arabs regardless of the fact that the Arabs will use such statehood to advance their goal of destroying Israel. The paleocons haven’t noticed, even now, that the leading neocon, Norman Podhoretz, even now, is supporting Bush’s policy of forcing Israel to make more and more concessions to its would-be destroyers.

Nope. The anti-“Likudniks” don’t see any of this. They have their sense of grievance (meaning their grievance against the neocons), and they keep imagining a world that justifies their sense of grievance, rather than looking at reality. It is an intellectual failure of the first order, and it has been catastrophic for pro-American nation conservatism.

LA writes:

A discussion of the above comment begins in a separate entry.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 02, 2008 06:14 PM | Send

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