Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., 1925-2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., died today at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. The New York Times obituary is here (and more views are posted at Memeorandum).

Buckley's ideological project, it may be said, sought to position the growing conservative movement within the mainstream of society, and Buckley sought to distance what he called "thinking right" from the far-right wing fringe, represented in the 1960s by the John Birch Society.

Efforts to that end are the subject of
Buckley's article in the March issue of Commentary. Here's an excerpt:

In the early months of l962, there was restiveness in certain political quarters of the Right. The concern was primarily the growing strength of the Soviet Union, and the reiteration by its leaders of their designs on the free world. Some of the actors keenly concerned felt that Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was a natural leader in the days ahead.

But it seemed inconceivable that an anti-establishment gadfly like Goldwater could be nominated as the spokesman-head of a political party. And it was embarrassing that the only political organization in town that dared suggest this radical proposal—the GOP’s nominating Goldwater for President—was the John Birch Society.

The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man, who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in America could have conceived. His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled.

Welch refused to divulge the size of the society’s membership, though he suggested it was as high as 100,000 and could reach a million. His method of organization caused general alarm. The society comprised a series of cells, no more than twenty people per cell. It was said that its members were directed to run in secret for local offices and to harass school boards and librarians on the matter of the Communist nature of the textbooks and other materials they used.

The society became a national cause célèbre—so much so, that a few of those anxious to universalize a draft-Goldwater movement aiming at a nomination for President in 1964 thought it best to do a little conspiratorial organizing of their own against it.
The remainder of the essay elaborates Buckley's immediate pattern of "conspiratorial organizing."

William F. Buckley was an interesting man. He had an intriguing, kind of airy way about addressing people, with a roll of the eyes or a long pause before speaking, and his manner sometimes seemed, to me, like that of a true American aristrocrat.

May he rest in peace.