Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Death of Conservatism

William F. Buckley Jr. dies.

From the AP

William F. Buckley Jr. dies at 82

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right's post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.

His assistant Linda Bridges said Buckley was found dead by his cook at his home in Stamford, Conn. The cause of death was unknown, but he had been ill with emphysema, she said.

Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, TV talk show star of "Firing Line," harpsichordist, trans-oceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor's race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.

Yet on the platform he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent's discomfort with wide-eyed glee.

"I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition," he wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1986. "I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."

Buckley had for years been withdrawing from public life, starting in 1990 when he stepped down as top editor of the National Review. In December 1999, he closed down "Firing Line" after a 23-year run, when guests ranged from Richard Nixon to Allen Ginsberg. "You've got to end sometime and I'd just as soon not die onstage," he told the audience.

I suppose there is something sadly appropriate that this is the period in which Buckley departs our vale of tears.

His death in and of itself isn’t any more or less poignant than that of anyone else at the end of a full, prosperous and well-lived life, but coming as is does now -- as Neocons, Theocrats, Feudalists, Bigots and Professional Wingnut Media Haters fight over the tiny gobbets of rotting meat left on the bones of Conservatism -- it does possess some of the same elements of a classical tragedy that exist in, say, a “King Lear”.

A tragedy which began (as such tragedies do) in early struggle and triumph as Buckley took up a fringe and reviled ideology called Conservatism and transformed it into a powerful national movement.

A tragedy which reached its long apotheosis as Buckley faded away as a source of influence within the movement he created, while still lingering lucidly and long enough to see the cause to which he devoted much of his life invaded, conquered, sacked and betrayed by the scum of the nation.

Lived long enough to see his movement debased into a horde of blood-drunk moral imbeciles whose idea of discourse is standing in traffic and screaming “Traitor!” at random, passing cars, and whose idea of responsible governance is voting for delusion and disaster and then whining when the bill comes due.

And while expending the energy and effort necessary to crush that mob is essential, it is also so far beneath us. So far removed from how a great nation should be expending its time and attention.

I’ll miss knowing Buckley is in the world if for no other reason than I am a strong believer that only the best opponents can bring out the best in us.

And that “opponent” need not be a synonym for “enemy”.

In the end the ideological children Buckley begat turned out to be monsters. Gargoyles who have now fully taken over his cathedral, shit in the holy water and used its cross to build a bonfire onto which they have hurled just about everything he held dear.

He was a man who outlived his revolution and watched powerlessly as it degenerated from this

to this

And there is no better word I know of to describe being forced to witness the arc of your own movement's glorious rise and massive, ignominious collapse than “tragedy”.


Anonymoustache said...

That was a brilliant post.

Anonymous said...

again your writing withers not only the opposition, but the home team by comparison,

Anonymous said...

In the end the ideological children Buckley begat turned out to be monsters. Gargoyles who have now fully taken over his cathedral, shit in the holy water and used its cross to build a bonfire onto which they have hurled just about everything he held dear.

No, wai!! Jonah Goldberg is so Buckley's intellectual heir!!

Anonymous said...

DG- your demonstration of honoring another human being while still forcefully disagreeing with their opinion is an important lesson. And your use of the term tragedy brings a degree of nobility, even in the face of a cause going horribly wrong.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Driftglass, you are being nice to Buckley because he just died. You have made it very clear on this blog that your view--which I agree wholeheartedly with--is that conservatism as a political ideology is pragmatically inconsistent with the reality of human nature and morally bankrupt, and was thus essentially peordained to ultimately result in the hideous large-scale megaclusterfuck we now find ourselves saddled with. ANd it is going to take decades to recover from the fruits of that sick ideology, if we ever do.

If anything, someone as brilliant as Buckley is more culpable for espousing the morally twisted conservative ideology, precisely because he should have seen more clearly than anyone where this ideology would lead.

Fran / Blue Gal said...

I disagree, physioprof. Buckley and the conservatives of the 60's were a completely different breed from what we have today in Rupert Murdoch's spittoon of fabrication for a cause. As I point out at my place, Buckley was wrong nearly all of the time, but he did not lie under force of money or fame, and he judged cleverness and wit far more valuable a weapon in debate than hate and spew.

Buckley, Goldwater, David Gergen, John Dean, and I would even argue George Will's non-evil twin (who only appears with every other blue moon) are/were intellectuals. We can disagree with their IDEAS completely but they are IDEAS. That is a different thing from a lie, a talking point, a spin, that the gargoyles are paid to spew by Fox.

It's not irony, not at all, that Rupert Murdoch has destroyed conservatism in hie efforts to make it invincible.

Thanks, Drifty. Wonderful post.

Fran / Blue Gal said...

...and on topic, what Glenn Greenwald said, Drifty says more poetically, but still.

Anonymous said...

I understand your point, BG. I believe--and it certainly seems to me from past Driftglass posts that he believes--that all of the seeds of hate, spew, lies, death, suffering, destruction, and misery were present in the early conservative ideology given loudest primary voice by Buckley. The fact that he was personally clever, witty, intelligent, eloquent, and an all-around nice guy who always bought a round at the local watering hole doesn't change the fact that he planted, watered, and nurtured these seeds.

Regardless of the accuracy of this stance, I hope that Driftglass will chime in to confirm (or debunk) my inference that he has taken this stance in prior posts here.

Anonymous said...

What a jarring segue. From reasoned, intelligent conversation and debate to that screeching, water-headed harridan.

Brain bleach and eye wash, stat!


Anonymous said...

Maybe now his hair will get washed.

WereBear said...


He defended McCarthy as a anti-communist crusader (even though McCarthy made it all up.)

He supported segregation in 1957, calling white people the advanced race.

In 1965 he denounced the Birchers... after previously supporting them in his magazine.

In 1968 he called Gore Vidal a "queer."

He did not object to the Iraq war.

And this is just a short stroll through Wikipedia. Such a witty, erudite man!

Who, as far as I can tell, has been wrong far more often than he was right. Born the son of an oil baron... snobbish, racist, homophobic and scorning the elements of his philosophy that proved unworkable in practice without ever changing his mind about the philosophy in the first place... ah, Buckley.

I wish I was as charitable as dear Driftglass.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

We're not supposed to gloat over someone shuffling off the mortal coil ... joining the choir invisible.

You know, that John Donne No-Man-Is-An-Island stuff?

But, day-em! I'm glad this apologist for the bottom-feeders is gonzo. So, color me Vindicta-Bitch. Nobody gets a 50-year pass on Plain and Simple Stupid. Nobody. Not even Billy Bucky.

Buh-Bye, Billy.

anna missed said...

In the end the only thing Buckley had was the primacy of the individual, over the social. As if the history of humanity was grounded in an evolution of free ranging individuals void social cohesion. So its not surprising that the net product of his lifes work was predestined to devolve into the banality of fascism - the inadvertent result of worship of the individual and the cult of its authority.

Anonymous said...

the man wanted to tatoo HIV infected Gays! gee, wonder where he got that idea from?

So no tears from me. But I am grateful that he lived long enough to see the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism. Now THAT is a hard death.

Morris B. said...

Hey the video supporting this (2 links, one of Buckley, the other of Ann Coultergeist, apparently) are no longer available... can this be fixed? i'm just curious to see what was on there.

My "I Promise Not To Give Your Money To Rupert Murdoch" Fundraiser.

I am given to understand that the Lincoln Lads are trying to raise one million dollars to create content that would "mess wit...