Not Our Kind, Dear

Victor Davis Hanson, in an interview with Tucker Carlson, explains why he longer works for the magazine of William F. Buckley:

I think there were certain people in the Republican movement, or establishment, who felt it is their duty to internally police their own, and that’s kind of a virtue signal to the left.

We are just part of your class, we share the same values as you do, and we keep our crazies. And they are not empirical.

Empiricism is hardly a growth industry, but clinging to tradition has its charms, especially if doing so allows you to strike down your rivals. There’s a long history of keeping crazies at National Review. During his long reign at NR, Buckley famously put paid to the Birchers and anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard, casting them to the outer darkness. Later on, Buckley cast out writers he had championed, including Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan, both for anti-Semitism. My father subscribed to NR and I would read it cover to cover in my youth. Once I set up my own household, I subscribed for over a decade, but after a while the value proposition wasn’t there.  

Buckley has been gone for over a decade now, and while his beloved NR is still in operation, it hasn’t been a serious enterprise for a long time. Back in 2016, NR tried to cast the Bad Orange Man to the outer darkness, marshaling dozens of arguments against the Dread Pirate Drumpf, but all their sound and fury signified, well, nothing. Why was that? No one really took NR seriously any more.

While Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t need a particular platform to be heard, his departure from NR means the cupboard is bare. It’s not surprising, truth be told — Republicanism generally signifies nothing. Hanson knows why:

I think there’s an image that a lot of Republicans have, both in politics and they sort of represent a sober and judicious way of looking at the world, and we are the adults in the room.

And it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology.

I’m not convinced it’s even a culture. From our perch in flyoverland, the conservative movement NR embodies is a pose rather than an attempt at understanding, let alone defending, a culture. Back to Hanson:

The original Republican conservative movement, I thought, was going to go back and look at the Constitution, when Jefferson said it won’t work if you pile up everybody in the cities because they will be subject to mass hysteria. Or de Tocqueville, and you look at certain ideas, I thought that’s what we were.

I thought they would be champions of the middle class, but I don’t think they were. I don’t think they wanted to be.

Hanson is clearly disillusioned, but he had to know the truth — any classicist of his erudition understands that grandeur and the trappings of the elite are powerful intoxicants. And currying favor with our betters is lucrative. 

8 thoughts on “Not Our Kind, Dear

  1. All of these opinion/current affairs magazines are money losers. They are beholden to their owners or donors, not to their readers.
    So why read a magazine that is not intended to please you?
    Deroy Murdock, in his 2016 endorsement of Trump, wrote: “Way back in ’67, William F. Buckley Jr. told interviewer Bill Barry how to pick among candidates in a Republican primary: ‘I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.'”

    NR no longer represents Buckley’s conservatism. It has been floundering since Buckley died. These days it seems to be an racket designed to pay a small clique of editors six figure salaries.
    The Atlantic is owned by a lefty radical who happens to be Steve Jobs’ widow.
    Slate is owned by DC liberal Donald Graham, heir to the Graham publishing empire.
    Salon is owned & kept alive by the liberal Hembrecht family.

  2. You read them so you have something to talk about at cocktail parties with your like-minded elites.

    I haven’t been to a cocktail party in ages.

  3. Buckley wrote as an intellectual and quoted intellectuals. I appreciated the scholarly complexity.

    In a battle of intellectualism vs anti-intellectualism, when is intellectualism ever not going to be the rightful winner? Name a single instance in human history where it did not prevail in the long run. Reason and reality have always won over superstition and delusion. We need to stop acting like there is room for both. Being anti-intellectual is not a virtue.

  4. I don’t know about cocktail parties and such, but I always thought NR (and the related publications) served to inform and support the arguments made by conservatives.

    And in this there is a second aspect to the failure of conservative publications and the conservative movement as a whole. It is related to the degradation of political culture over the last 60 years. As described by zman in Takimag:

    The two most important features of the long-running culture war in the United States are that the left has won every fight and the right has never learned from failure.
    As a practical matter, […] the conservative side comes to every dispute festooned with facts and logical arguments based on those facts. They assume that if they can make their case just the proper way, the left will have no choice but to accept their conclusions. At that point, the left will throw down their weapons, thank the right for enlightening them, and embrace them as brothers.

    This never happens because the left is not motivated by facts and reason, at least not the facts and reason so pleasing to the right. Their social and political positions are rooted in the deeply held belief that they are on the side of angels or, as they prefer to put it, the right side of history. For the left, political opinion is a positional good. They hold political and social opinions to signal their moral virtue.

    The conservative opinion-makers ignored this change and continued to press the intellectual aspects that had been so profitable for them. They revealed themselves for who they were when they ignored and denigrated the significance of the Trump candidacy. Note I did not say they should’ve supported Trump, just that they didn’t even understand why the Trump candidacy happened (VDH did, however). At that point, why care about them if they don’t even understand the political climate they pretend to explain?

  5. “[why care about them [conservative opinion-makers] if they don’t even understand the political climate they pretend to explain?”

    Populism has tended to have surges and then ebb away because it is reactive and does not have consistent party-political expression.

  6. ‘I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.’”
    So Buckley would have voted for Trump.

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