Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Standing Athwart History, Yelling "Stop!"

"Listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered!"

This was directed at Gore Vidal in a live TV debate at the 1968 Chicago Convention and was clearly not one of William F. Buckley's finest moments, but it was the first that came to mind on hearing today that Buckley had died, age 82 (The encounter can be read about, and apparently downloaded, here).

It is unfair to open with this spat, because although it brings to mind the dreadful, shouty bickering that seems to characterise American political discourse, Buckley deserves credit for his articulate, intelligent and determined efforts to confront and change the American political mind. For over fifty years, Buckley has been a leader of American conservatism, taking it from the fringes into the forefront. While Reagan took his confrontational conservative ideology to public office, articulating it in consistent popular rhetoric until it represented the mainstream, Buckley was of the elite, the now-maligned intelligensia, articulating his conservatism in its terms through his journal, The National Review, which challenged the weighty institutions of The Nation and The New Republic. Equally, this eventually became a standard in American political thought. This is from the first issue of The National Review, November 19, 1955:

We begin publishing, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right, and a despair of the intransigence of the Liberals, who run this country; and all this in a world dominated by the jubilant single-mindedness of the practicing Communist, with his inside track to History. All this would not appear to augur well for NATIONAL REVIEW. Yet we start with a considerable — and considered — optimism.

An optimism that, it seems, was well placed. But now, with both Buckley and the Communists out of the way, perhaps our current despair at the intransigent beneficiaries of his (and Reagan's) success can make way for a bit of optimism.

1 comment:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Gore Vidal! What a prat! Even Norman Mailer head-butted him!