February 02, 2012

Buckley: An honest biography

Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American ConservatismBuckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism by Carl T. Bogus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent overview of Buckley, and his particular flavor of conservativism, and how he was able to unite disparate wings of conservativism into one "movement."

Bogus has written for The Nation, among other things, but, from my POV, there's no liberal ax-grinding; Buckley is acknowledged for his successes, while still criticized for his flaws.

Besides the "political sociology" success of creating this modern movement, Bogus notes that Buckley himself was primarily a libertarian, but with social conservative leanings to, albeit of a religious nature. He was NOT, Bogus says, a Burkean, in his take on individualistic vs. collective strands in conservativism. Bogus says that Americans' "rugged individuality" probably has militated against a Burkean line of thought gaining too much steam in America. And, after Russell Kirk decided to pitch his tent under Buckley's Burkeans had no independent leader in the U.S. (And really still don't today.)

Buckley's biggest failing? That of Ron Paul today - race issues. I knew about mid-1950s National Review issues, which were bad enough to be called, if not racist, at least pandering to racists. But, as late as the late 1960s, Buckley was lamenting that too many blacks were in leadership positions in the fight against the Vietnam War, and claimed they were communist dupes, in part because they weren't smarter. THAT I did not know.

And, that was Buckley's second-biggest mistake - Vietnam. He never did admit he was wrong for backing that war to the bitter end. Bogus says that's because Buckley, beyond "evil empire" takes on monolithic communism, had no coherent foreign policy, nor did he attempt to make one.'

That, in turn reflects not a single mistake, but a larger failing. Bogus rightly calls Buckley not a deep thinker. (There are conservative deep thinkers, but, to riff on Bogus, they're not to be found at the main conservative opinion journals.)

Anyway, I don't want to give away too much about the book. Moderates, liberals, and even honest conservatives who don't worship at Buckley's altar will find plenty to like here.

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