How Buckley’s Anti-Communism Morphed Into Neoconservatism

Political magazines have long relied on donors to ensure their continued existence. This is true of Chronicles, but it’s also been true of mainstream organs of conservatism such as the National Review. William F. Buckley, Jr., would often pen letters to donors which asserted that the magazine was “dead broke.” In one such letter from 1966, Buckley noted that it became clear every February that the magazine “failed to pay our way.” This was due not to mismanagement, he said, but rising production costs. “A magazine cannot charge a price drastically in excess of the general price level set by such as ‘Look,’ ‘Life,’ ‘Time,’ ‘Newsweek,’ etc., which absorb the extra costs by levying on their munificent benefactors,” he wrote.

I recently got a copy of this letter forwarded to me from the widow of a friend, Wes McDonald, who was an ardent Buckleyite, as I was for a while many years ago. Reading the beginning of Buckley’s plea, both Wes and I would have immediately dug out our checkbooks to support his failing enterprise. But there was something different about this 1966 letter, and if Wes and I had read on, we would have learned that the National Review editors were facing a new financial “threat.” Fascism: The Career of... Gottfried, Paul Best Price: $41.28 Buy New $40.07 (as of 03:55 EST - Details)

Buckley disclosed that a Dr. Linus Pauling was suing National Review for $1 million. The magazine’s senior editor James Burnham had gone after Pauling as a Soviet collaborator in two editorials published earlier in the decade, and the magazine was now engaged in preparation for the trial by collecting documents to substantiate its charges. These activities, explained Buckley, were costly. It was necessary to appeal to readers to help pay for “this judicial sizzler for the cause of anti-Communism.” Up until then, National Review had coughed up “an incredible fifty thousand dollars, which was dutifully done in the cause of anti-Communism but which we cannot ourselves conceivably afford.”

Reading this letter, I was struck by the repetition of certain phrases, particularly “the cause of anti-Communism” and “fellow traveler.” Accusations of “collaborationism” were laid on Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Pauling, who—one might gather from the letter and related pieces in National Review—was a major threat to America’s defense against Soviet Communism. Although there is no need to justify Pauling’s naïve call to Americans not to resume nuclear testing after the Soviets had taken that step in 1962, no proof was offered that this renowned physical chemist felt any affection for communism.

Encounters: My Life wi... Paul Gottfried Best Price: $5.20 Buy New $5.60 (as of 08:10 EST - Details) In any case I am underwhelmed by the evidence of Pauling’s “collaborationism.” When I read Buckley in the 1960s, I generally ignored his anti-communist ebullitions, starting with his eagerness to throw nuclear weapons against the commies. Although the social and constitutional conservatism expounded in National Review pleased me, I could have done happily without the anti-communist grandstanding. For example, I shared Burnham’s cynical attitude about liberal internationalists and his interest in the continuing managerial revolution in the Western world. But Burnham’s call for brinksmanship in dealing with other countries fell on mostly deaf ears in my case.

I relished most of the magazine’s other regulars, especially Russell Kirk, Will Herberg, Jeffrey Hart, and Willmoore Kendall. Still I noticed these figures managed to write on topics other than Burnham’s “protracted conflict.” Years later when I became friendly with Kirk and Herberg, it became apparent that these longtime National Review contributors read past those tirades that I found so inexpressibly tiresome.

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