Dear Mr. Buckley,
So I receive your letter in the mail today — the one in which you tell me you are "forlorn" by my lack of renewal of my National Review subscription — and find myself feeling…impressed. With me, that is. To think William F. Buckley took time to think of me and then even become forlorn as a result means that I might be an influential man.
You can bet that my wife will hear about this the next time she asks me to help her with the kitty litter.
You are, after all, a Big Man in political circles. Practically every column you write reminds me of where you go (that I don’t) and whom you know (whom I don’t). You even use words, like méchanceté, that you know (and I don’t). That my non-renewal would make you forlorn makes me think that when you count your blessings, it might go something like this: "Lessee, um. First there’s my health. Then there’s my family. I live in Connecticut. And then there’s that professor-guy in Alabama that subscribes to NR."
As that guy in Alabama, I think it’s only fair that you know that you have made me forlorn as well. The first reason is not that important, but you should know that I never actually subscribed to NR. Someone else subscribed me, as a member benefit for some organization to which I belong (although the name escapes me). Surely you must have known this! Still, I did subscribe in the Eighties, and you may have remembered me from your letters back then, when you’d remind me of our friendship and then ask me for money. I never sent any because those were my poor college years, and believe me, if I had any excess slush, it would have been saved to prepare for the future taxation that that decade’s deficits produced. But who needs money when you have the love of friends?
This is a small matter, in terms of gloom-inducing activity, compared to my larger complaint. And that’s with National Review itself. If it has produced any good in the world, then we should acknowledge it, but if it hasn’t, then after 50 years and some change, it is time to print a farewell issue, and say good night.
Your magazine was started, ostensibly, to foment a political opposition to communism from the Right at a time when many knew your program would threaten whatever republican virtues survived two decades of New Deals and foreign wars. And so you would write in 1952 that in order to defeat the Soviets, the U.S. must become like them, saying that Americans will have to "support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant centralization of power in Washington." The argument must have some strength, since we now hear it in response to the threat du jour, terrorism.
But who benefited from it? Well, it was any group that benefits from the existence of a large, centralized nation-state. It is no mistake that many major lobbying interests (from the military-industrial complex and the agricultural and oil industries) purchase those full-page ads that keep NR in the black. It’s safe to say they aren’t purchasing copies of Our Enemy the State with their spoils — quite the opposite, in fact. And it’s safe to say that for NR, anticommunism was always a means for the "attendant centralization" of the federal government, and never an end.
So it is fair to ask, how successful has NR been in standing athwart history and all that? I mean, in the Fifties, you must have thought history loved the Taft wing of the Republican Party and the Old Right in general, since you used NR to athwart them both. In the Sixties and Seventies, NR proved to be such an impotent force against the welfare state that today forced income redistribution is at record levels. Thanks! And while NR was a non-factor in the ending of the Cold War (unless you had embarked on some hellish 40-year plan), you did provide much of the intellectual support for undeclared and therefore unconstitutional hot wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and have gone far to militarize our culture today. Although the Soviet Union finally imploded (because socialism never works), it happened much later than predicted by the Austrian economists, thanks of a nuclear confrontation inflamed by the latter day Curtis LeMays pounding at NR’s typewriters.
Based on that record, one might conclude that history actually triumphed peace, market order, and freedom, since NR thwarted it so much.
And it thwarts it today, after seven years of apologizing for George W. Bushism, government growth not seen since the New Deal, and today’s cheap substitute for the Cold War. One wonders if NR editors feel a connection to Belloc’s Matilda as they trot out cover picture after cover picture of the potential Republican candidates that are acceptable to partisans of Big Government, knowing all along that the public hates them. What does it mean about the pertinence of your magazine that after seven years of a conservative administration, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are seen as legitimate successors by endorsing platforms that emphasize a kinder, gentler statism?
It means that the gig might be up for National Review, whose appeal is now generational, being rejected by younger people who note the level of freedom that existed at its founding and the level today. That is the only relevant yardstick. Based on it, you have good reason to be forlorn. It has much more to do with one person’s missing renewal notice.
Nonetheless, thanks for writing, Mr. B. If you still need a few bucks, feel free to ring me up. Until then, I am,
June 26, 2007
Chris Westley [send him mail] teaches economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.