tv William F. Buckley and American Conservatism CSPAN June 30, 2015 11:45pm-1:11am EDT
and i wonder what's the better way that people are referencing? and now hearing this speech, i can't help but think it's just a beckoning to step back into orbit. so i wonder, your thoughts on this dialogue and if you're there, you know, how do you respond to this person? and the r is there an answer? if not, what do you see to him? >> thank you. i wish i could show you the chill bumps, you know? you guys are -- it's in your hands in so many ways. i usually respond in this way. you know there's a line that i often attribute to emerson where he says, god speaks to us through our imagination. and whenever i say ta to my students, i then follow up with the question if that's true, then what is the devil doing? so the answer is that the devil is trying to restrict our imaginations, trying to occupy, kind of limit what we can see, what we can imagine. so what's so fascinating about
this current moment is the way in which our political imaginations have been atrophied, how it's been limited. so if we just looked at the 1970s, right, and look at what was circulating in political discourse, right? you could hear talk of full employment. folks were talking, they weren't -- there were questions around the death penalty. whether or not it was viable, right? i mean, what was politically possible, right, was much more vast. i marine, we were just talking about walter mondale. joe, walter mondale sounds like a -- what did you had, a fiery leftist today right? and, no, it's just because the field of political action has narrowed in such a way that what constitutes legitimate political action, right, is so limited. so the better way has to be within this narrow frame of what constitutes legitimate political
behavior. let's give you an example. so folks are talking about folks in ferguson needed to vote, they needed to participate in the political process. nobody voted. and nobody has voted. nobody -- it waebts a vote that god rid of the chief of police. it wasn't a vote that got rid of the city manager. it wasn't a vote that suddenly has -- that's shut down the municipal court. it wasn't a vote that has reduced the number of stops traffic stops that has had arrest warrants thrown out of court. nobody voted for that to happen. it was that mass mobilization. right? if the video hasn't showed up about freddie gray where would we be? if the video didn't show up about walter scott, what would have happened? if those folk hasn't gotten the street in baltimore, would those six police officers have been charged?
right? would there be a conversation going on in the united states right now about the state of baltimore? and mortality right? life chances of teenagers. the rate of unemployment. some pocket over 50%. right? the opportunity desert that is east baltimore. with that have happened? i don't know is saying that those forms of protests constitute the end and be all of black politics. i think we need a strategy for the streets a strategy for the ballot box and a strategy for the courtroom. right? but the one thing we need to do is to understand that the ground of the imagination is a battlefield. the imagination is the battlefield. because they don't want you to think that you can behave politically different, in a different way. who is the "they"? i don't know, right?
but there's -- but for some reason, people want us to think that where we are now is sufficient. the perfectionist impulse demands is that we reach for higher levels of excellence. for us to think of good that reach beyond the knowledgeness of now. the prophetic isn't in some person who has access to god's insight. the prophetic is found in the exercise of critical intelligence our ability to see the as yet in the face of the horror of the actual. you feel me? all right. >> before i invite you to thank professor glaude once again, i want to till what is coming next. we will have a 30-minute break so you're invited to refresh yourself over here once again
with the coffee and snacks. and then we will have our next panel. i also want to draw the attention to the fact that the last panel that was supposed to start at 4:00 p.m., has been canceled because both of those scholars weren't able to make it at the last minute. now i want you to join me in thanking professor glaude for a magnificent -- like many of us first families take vacation time. and like presidents and first ladies, a good read can be the perfect companion for your summer journeys.
what better book than one that peers inside the personal life of every first lady in american history? first ladies, presidential historians on the lives of 45 iconic american women. inspiring of fascinating women who survived the scrutiny of the white house. a great summertime read. available from public affairs as a hard cover or an ebook. through your favorite bookstore or online book seller. like many of us first families take vacation time. and like presidents and first ladies, a good read can be the perfect companion for your summer journeys. what better book than one that peers inside the personal life of every first lady who survived in american history. first ladies, presidential historians on the lives of 45 iconic american women inspiring stories of fascinating women who survived the scrutiny of the white house.
a great summertime read, available from public affairs as a hard cover or an ebook through your favorite bookstore or online book seller. up next two contrasting views of national review founder william f. buckley and american conservative's views on race during the mid 20th century. this was part of a sympathy posesus in linfield college in oregon to mark the 50th anniversary of a 1965 cambridge unit debate between conservative william f. buckley and author james baldwin. this panel is about 90 minutes. >> patrick is someone who i got to know through the great courses on tape. many of you -- any teaching company fans in the house? as a commuter, the teaching company has been a great companion of mine so i feel like i know patrick better than i actually do because of my many
drives through the back roads of oregon on my way to work. patrick would accompany me with his thoughts on american religious history, the history of conservativism the american identity, and even among the courses patrick teaches he teaches about teaching pep has a course for the teaching company called the art of teaching. so patrick is a -- a very accomplished scholar on the back of your program you can find many of his books listed there. sort of most relevant for our purposes patrick is the author of "the conservatives a history of conservativism." that's available on display over at the book table. and most recently, patrick published a book called "the climate of crisis" which is a history of environmentalism in the united states. so please join me in welcoming patrick to linfield. >> thanks so much, nick. it's a great pleasure to be
here. you can tell from my voice that i'm english. i was born and raised in england, but spent most of my working life here in the united states, became a citizen a couple of years ago and i'm delighted to be -- to be american. well, nick told me that one of the issues that his class has been considering this semester is the question of what is freedom? now, although neither baldwin or buckley addresses the question of freedom directly it's implicit there in the atmosphere all the time. they both come out in favor of freedom. it's hard to imagine how you could give a speech in america and not be in favor of freedom. they seem to mean very different things by it. one of the things that's so tantalizing is the concept is a protein one. it's hard to nail down exactly. in watching the video again yesterday, i was so struck by one passage where baldwin does a very clever thing ree torically he says, i picked the cotton. i built the railroads, i took it to market. and he prosecute faces it by saying, i mean this literally. now, of course he doesn't mean
it literally at all. he means it metaphorically. but it's a powerful trick to play. what he's doing there he's giving the idea that the burden of oppression is so massive, that it's almost as though his individuality and the individuality of all african-americans has been snufred out, yes, and that inific what happened to one of them has happened to all of them. that seems to be the claim doesn't it? and it's very rhetorically powerful and it sweeps away the audience in the cambridge union. and so the image i got from that, or the feeling i got from there that was we're-on-an undifferentiated mass of people and, therefore we can't be free. on the other hand, william buckley says, no, that's quite wrong. the african-american population is a free population and it's free for two reasons. first, because it's prosperous. it's one of the most prosperous peoples in the world. it sounds like a para docks and there's some statistical
evidence to support it and he says they're free because of american idealism. american idealism is this busy -- 65 this busy redressing what are admittedly these terrible historical wrongs. both of them are very artful speak sxers both of them seem very reasonable in the context of the way they say it. i was also interested in what looked to me like a little bit of a contradiction in baldwin -- or two parts of baldwin's speech. at one point, he seems to be saying when this burden of oppression has been lifted, then we will be free. but -- and that obviously brings to mind the pair ragz of martin luther king's "i have a dream" speech where king ends by saying free at last free at least thank god all mighty i'm free at last." but on the other hand baldwin has that passage that says 40 years from now, an african-american may be president. but he seems to go on to say --
so long as it comes from the good will of kennedy it's a kind of hollow victory. so i'm not quite sure which of those he wants to emphasize. so i'm sure this definition of competing definitions of freedom will come up during the main course of today. but my main job today is to talk about buckley himself, who he was, where he's gone and i think we're seeing limb in this video in the midst of an interesting journey. he began the journal national review in 1955. he had been born in '25, so he was 30 when he started the journal. and he became the most important journalists depression of a new conservative movement in america. and he had two reasons for founding it. the first was he was an anti-militant communist and he thought the eisenhower administration wasn't sufficiently aggressive in combatting soviet communism. his view of the world was a sharply bifurcated one. the soviet unit and it's
satellites represented evil and repression and tyranny whereas the western world, the nato allies led by the united states represented freedom. and there's a very, very clear polar antagonism between these two. its apparent willingness to live this with antagonism in indefinitely pep understood obviously the mutual threat of weapons was very great indeed and that you needed to be judicious and still he wanted more anti-aggressive communism. second major issue with buckley as their leader was the criticism of liberalism. he deplored liberalism and he was very annoyed with the eisenhower administration for accepting the heritage of the new deal of the past 20 years. his view was that america should be busy rolling back the heritage of the new deal and he was sad to see the government accepting it so willingly. now, he was also -- he and his friends were enthusiastic about
capitalism because they said capitalism is the economic system which makes nations wealthy. and when they're wealthy, it makes them more powerful. so, in other words his view was everything we can do to make america wealthier is going to make it freer and more likely to win in its antagonism against the soviet union. he contested liberalism because ets it's not fighting faith. liberal res people who doubt their premises even while they're acting on it. he loved the idea of absolute moral certainty and he thought that was one thing american liberals didn't have. and he deplored the growth of the welfare state because he thought it was coercive. it's based on heavier and heavier taxation. he hated the tendency for the federal government to concentrate more power in their own hands. it's taking away the balance of powers which was established at the time of the constitution back in the 1780s.
so the combination of high taxation and centralized governments are threats to freedom which he was against. now, in the early addition of national review, in the late 1950s, quite a lot of explicit supporters contributed to the journal. people like richard russell the georgia senator, who was one of the architects of the policies of massive resis resistance. the claim that we're going to fight desegregation every step of the way. james kilpatrick was a writer, an active supporter of racial egg segregation. and kilpatrick used to make what he thought was principled defenses of segregation. donald davidson one of those who said i'll take my stand. and davidson writes everyone in the south loves segregation. apart from a handful of irritable agitators. that was his views. and so views like this were very common at first.
here's an editorial from national review from 1956. in which buckley is supporting the idea that what really matters is the distribution of powers. that it's more important to make sure that the states retain their rights than it is to have desegregation. and buckley writes, support for the southern position, in other words, the segregationist position, rests not at all on the question of whether negro and white children should study side by side, but on whether a central or a local authority should make that decision. what really counts is the level at which the decisions are made. buckley also published a book about that time called up from liberalism. the title is itself a parody of booker t. washington's book from slavery. and from liberalists, buckley makes racist statements. he says, for example, quote, in the south the white community is entitled to put forth a claim to prevail politically.
because for the time being the leaders of american civilization are white. but then in the years following that between '56 and '65, buckley started reconsidering his position. this is the period of the freedom riots and sit-ins and dramatic events in birmingham in '63 and so on. and buckley was one of hundreds of thousands of white american christians who began to reconsider their racial views. incidentally, his sister had married his old debating partner from yale, and brent had become a very, very ardent catholic. and he said to him, you've got to take this thing more seriously. the mistreatment of african-americans is an absolute outrage. it's a violation of our principles as christians. m and you as a prominent christian in american life have got to take this more seriously. this is the time when martin luther king is making these spell binding speeches. using the bible, and then using american folklore and tradition
and american songs and so on and blending them together very very ingeniously. and king understood that he's using biblical passages which are familiar to his black and his white audience, as a way of inducing a bad conscious in his white listeners. and i think king did that very effectively. and one of the people on whom it worked was buckley himself. so that in '62, '63, buckley is becoming more and more sympathetic to the objectives of the desegregation movement. and then of course in '63, that's really the crucial year. because that was the time when conner and birmingham set fire hoses and attack dogs on demonstrators. and in the fall of '63, that's when the church was blown up with the four girls inside, who were killed at sunday school. and buckley realized the defensive stage riots is now being completely lyly lyly gone. so at that point he becomes more and more sympathetic to the
civil rights movement. not because he had ever been -- i don't think he wanted to be interested in it. if you're a political commentator, you have to respond when the circumstances arise whether you think you want to be concerned with them or not. and then there's also this aspect of it as well. i began by saying that he was a very, very militant cold warrior. buckley was aware that pictures of police dogs attacking nonviolent ghondemonstrators didn't only appear on the front page of "the new york times" or "washington post." they also appeared on the front page of the russian newspapers brilliant propaganda for the soviet union. it enabled the russians to say look at the hypocrites in america. they say they believe in freedom. what they do is systemically persecute a large minority of their population. we, the soviet union, do nothing like that. in other words, america is losing the propaganda war of the cold war, as lodge as it permits
things like this to go on. and this is also the period of the decolonization of africa. when they're giving independence to their former african policies. and in a sharply polarizing world between the west and the east each of these african nations has the riblgt to make choices about where it's going to align itself. the united states wanted as many as possible to join up with the united states. are they likely to do so when they witness scenes like this? no. so this is another of the sorlt of cold war reason why buckley wants the violence of the segregationists to come to an end. so when we see him in the debates, and when we see him in '65, he's right in midstream. he's going through a great transition. you can see, although he disagrees with baldwin's assessment of what happens he agrees it's degrading and humiliating, and he's willing to grant the psychological case that baldwin is making. now ironically, the civil rights
act of '64 and the voting rights act of '65, they hardly being passed when the american conservative movement became great supporters of them. and the reason for that with uz because they insisted on the idea of prohibiting discrimination on grounds of rights. it's immediately after that in the late '60s that affirmative action programs started. affirmative action is another highly highly contentious issues because it brings to question competing definitions of equality just as we can argue about what freedom means, so we can argue what equality actually means. the supporters of affirmative action said because of acceptability centuries of discrimination, affirmative action programs are necessary to create an equilibrium for the first time. to which the critics of affirmative action answered oh no, you mustn't do that.
that's perpetuating racial distinctions in the name of trying to destroy them, and you can't have both. in other words, are we going to give people access to schools, access to jobs and so on because of their race, and if p we are aren't we perpetuating the same battle method? and these are two internally reasonable points of view in violation with each other. one of buckley's very best friends in those days, in the early and mid '60s was a man named gary will. and gary will said we as conservatives, we have the idea that the past gives us oppressive heritage of experience from which we can draw as we guide our way cautiously to the future. we honor the past for the experience it offers. and that means that we've got a special responsibility for taking seriously the worst aspects of the heritage. one of which clearly is racism. and therefore we as conservatives above all should be supporters of affirmative action. well, not many, not many
conservatives agreed with that view, and he was on the the brink of departing from the movement at that point. but he kind of at least half way convinced buckley, in '68 for example, here's another editorial from william buckley. writing in response to the brownsville teacher strike a very, very complicated issue in the internal politics of new york. really on the question of who should decide who teaches and who is the principal in new york public schools. and buckley writes this in '68. to a pointed black teacher, because he is black is racist granted. but we've reached a point in race relations where it becomes desirable to act consciously in such a way as to act to the demands of the negro community are in the least way plausible. it would appear to be one of those defensible objectives. so of course by the time he's writing this the integrationist impulse in the civil rights movement is becoming a little bit weaker, and the black power motive is becoming a little bit
stronger, and certainly the rhetoric surrounding the brownsville teacher strike was one of black power. now when we think of the '60s we often think of this as a great radical period. an effervescence of radical movement. and it was. but the conservatives. because so many people reacted in horror from the things happening in the radical '60s. and it was in the late 1960s that the conservative movement picked up a lot of new allies. particularly a group we remember as the neo conservatives. now the neo conservatives were people who were -- had been very, very staunch supporters of the the new deal. they were mainly urban, mainly the sons and grandsons of catholic and jewish immigrants, social scientists, political scientists and sociologists and urban study experts. and they had been very, very wholehearted supporters of the civil rights movement, very, very eager spo torte legislation to get rid of racial discrimination and so on but
then they were so horrified by the inner city riots of the mid and late 1960s the riots in washington and detroit and newark and cleveland and lathsos angeles, that today started to worry law and order was breaking down all together. they said the first premise is the maintenance of law and order. if we haven't got that, we haven't got anything. that made them more and more sympathetic to the point of view of being espoused by the buckley conservatives. this is nathan glaser, who is mentioned in the video. now they brought a lot of analytical and sociological rigor to the movement. and they were interested in questions like this. do the anti poverty programs of the johnson administration actually work? and increasingly the answer they came up with was no, they don't work.
and they began to work on the idea of the limits to which social policy can transform a political situation. but they always did it in a nonracial way. they had this idea of the culture of poverty in the '60s was very influential idea. the theory that the reason people are poor is because they're not conducive to getting out of poverty. the idea that you need to have an orientation towards the future a willingness to delay your gratification to a subsequent date. a willingness to take rigorous courses to education. this is what america's poor people black and white don't do. ft one of the contributors was michael harrington. and this idea of a cull clur of poverty could be applied
impartially to black and white populations was one of the things that the conservatives were very enthusiastic about. and they also said why is it? here's one of the great puzzles of the period why is it after a long period followed finally by legislation to mitigate segregation, why is it then that the riots break out? is it because of the raising of expectations which can't be met? this is one of the the explanations they gave? the most famous, one of the most notorious books coming from this crew by charles murray, published in 1984, called losing ground. and charles murray asked this question. the anti-poverty program of the last 20 years, how effective have they been? the the answers are worse than useless. had there been no anti-poverty programs at all, we now have less poverty in america than we've actually got. a sense of paradoxical
conclusion. and bitterly contested. some strongly supported it. others strongly denied it. but it's interested by that by the 1980s more and more african-americans were partsover the conservative movement. many of them sociologists or economists. thomas sowell, glenn lowry, allen keys and so on. and they shared the general outlook of the other american conservatives. taking this view. yes, america is a land of opportunity. yes, its legislation to outlaw discrimination has been effective and given african-americans the same opportunities everyone else enjoys and also outspoken critics of affirmative action. they said so long as we have affirmative action, any african-american gets a job or gets a place on campus or gets any kind of prom nentd position in society, is going to be suspected of being the beneficiary of an unfair program. being pushed into place for
affirmative action reasons rather than the merits. and a common thing in the writing of all the conservatives is it necessary for african-americans to stop thinking of themselves ads victims. we're not victims. and we have to get rid of thinking about ourselves that way. and let me just end by offering you a little thought experiment about how people's ideas change. obviously, one of the questions we're confronting when we think of issues like this is should we be impressed by how quickly racial segregation disappeared? or dismayed at how long it took? depending on how long you deploy the evidence, you can look at either of those ways. think about this for a minute. when the 13th amendment was passed to outlaw slavery, several many people believed that slavery was right, yeah?
we know they believed it was right. they fought a war for it and hundreds of their close relatives had died for it. there's testimony in support of the idea that you believe in something. but after 1865 it became impossibly to say openly that slavery was right. no longer could they talk about the state assemblies. it becomes the memory of the american life. it's no longer included in the curriculum of the schools. once it's gone underground, it's much more difficult for new generations to believe it in wholeheartedly. so everyone born after the end of slavery was that much less likely to believe slavery was right. and it's very difficult for us to know this for certain, but don't you agree by 19 2k0, there was probably nobody left in the united states who believed that slavery was good and right. by then the whole idea hads become a phantom.
now in the same way, it's impossible to imagine in ability 1965, there was millions of americans, southern whites particularly, who believed that segregation was right and proud of believing it. the thing about people's beliefs is that they're proud of having them. think about your beliefs. you're proud of the things you believe you believe they're right. a lot of segregationists did believe that. the idea becomes intolerable. kit no longer be voiced in public. once it can no longer be introduced to congress or the the state assemblies or government polls, once it's no longer in the the tax book, again, the same kind of thing happens, each new generation of children is less likely to hold that view and to hold it deeply and sincerely even if they're aware the parents and grandparents did. with the result that it becomes progressively weakened with the passage of time. now when i titled this talk, i certainly didn't mean to imply it declined to the point of
evaporation. obviously not. it's still a force in american political life. you can see that in the ways in which president obama gets talked about. at least it's no longer possible to denounce president obama in explicitly racial terms. and groups that have very contorted ways of saying we're not saying anything racial. instead it has to be voiced in other, sometimes very very strange other ways. so i think one of the most significant stories in the american conservative movement is as it rose to power reaching the agreement moment in h 1980 with the the election of ronald reagan, it was simultaneously placing less and less white and less and less faith in the principles of racial segregation. thanks very much indeed.
>> thank you, patrick. our second speaker will be bill hopeland. his primary area of research founding. he's the the author of three books. most recently founding finance. and he devotes most of his time to writing, not only scholarly books like the ones aye listed but also to being a public intellectual and writing in popular interviews. "the new york times," the boston review the huffington post. he came on this particular symposium because he was the author of an essay called "american dreamers" that explored the legacy of william f. buckley and pete seager. bill's talk is on the beaches, in the hills in the mountains.
william buckley's legacy and the policy of denial. thank you. good morning. well, we differ on very similar ground. we're on similar ground. we differ strongly, patrick and i. and yet i don't think we're entirely directly opposed on each point. so maybe this will refract the sublt matter a little bit and tear it up and see if it leads to interesting discussion or further food for thought. unusually for me, i actually wrote my remarks down today. i would like to read them. i like to speak from notes most of the time. but this particular piece is a development of the piece nick kindly referred to published in boston review. and over the years since then, i've been poking at the topic further at my blog. i've been poking at it semiresponsibly. not always testing what i'm
say -- the question of what i think that's what i mean. that's why i have a blog. but i took this opportunity and this gracious invitation as an opportunity to get my arms around all of this, to see what i really think happened in this period through this lens of looking at buckley's development on these issues. so here's my story. in 1957 the u.s. congress passed a civil rights act. weak compared with later better known bills. the '57 act with efforts to ensure african-americans an equal right of participation in politics politics. the most vigorous came from the democratic party politicians of the south. the senate majority leader lyndon johnson of texas worked with senator russell of georgia to dilute enforcement in committee, senator thurman of south carolina famously filibustered it. when filibustering was
filibustering, for 24 truly weird and memorable hours. that year in his magazine the national review, the young conservative writer and activist william f. buckley jr. published an essay against passing federal laws to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments in the south. entitled why the south must prevail. it's pretty well known by now, u think some of the the key assertions are worth repeating in context. we've heard related assertions already this morning. but i'm going to give up a fairly long quote here for some context from that particular essay of buckley's. the naacp and others insist -- others disagree. contending most negroes approval the separation of the races. what if the naacp is correct? the negroes would according to democratic processes win the the election, but that's the kind of situation the white
community will not permit. the man who didn't count it will be hauled out before a jury. he will plead not guilty and the jury upon deliberation will find him not guilty. a federal judge in a similar situation might find the defendant guilty. a judgment which would affirm the law and conform with the relevant abstractions but whose consequences may be violent and anarchistic. the central question that emerges, and it's not a parliamentary question or a question anxioused by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of american citizens more equal is whether the white community in the south entitled to take such measures necessary to preprevail. the sobering answer is yes. the white community is so entitled because for the time being, it is the advanced race. and then later in the same essay he says this, if the majority wills what is socially advantageous then the thwart the majority may be undemocratic
enlighteneded. that's the the endend of the kwoelt. there's more. but that's the end of that quote. on similar bases he went onto oppose the landmark act of 1965. which he warned his readers would lead to chaos. well into the 1980 ds he defended south american aparpar hit. when he died in 2008 they celebrated the career as essential to the movement in the founding and rise to dominance beginning in the 1980s. george f. will put it this way, before there could be ronald reagan's presidency, there had to be barry goldwater's candidacy. it placed the republican party in the hands of its adherence.
before goldwater's insurgency there had to be national review magazine. that's a fair enough summation of a mainstream history of the rise of mainstream conservatism. and to draw voters of both parties that way. the process culminated in the reagan revolution. reagan both lauded and befriend befriended buckley. and yet in 2013 when a conservative u.s. supreme court struck down what "the new york times" call the heart of the voting acts in 1965, justice robert's opinion never mentioned the whilt race. never pointed to violence and anarchy enshoeuing from the black opinion. every member of the court's conservative majority owes his seat to the success of the political movement that buckley helped found in if 189950s. but neither of those judges nor
anybody else today calls martin luther king jr. a rabble rousing dem demagogue, as buckley did. nor would conservative candidates, judges, activists and supporters today suggest as buckley did in why the south must prevail and elsewhere, whenever they will result from democratic oppression, then society must empower instead an enlightened elite to uphold the standards. quite the contrary. it's the act opposite of buckley's. robert said that the voting rights act has proved successful at integrating the voting process. and in mckuchen versus federal elections standards, campaign
contributions made by any one person. allowing, enabling access to political power for elites with great financial resources, greater access to power based on those resources. p opinion framed the decision in terms of serving democracy, not thwarting democracy in the service of civilized standards. by a lion of mainstream conservative thought appears nowhere in the views expressed by today's mainstream conservatives. they nevertheless point to his contributions in their own political successes and they're carrying out programs buckley advanced. so what's up with that? that's kind of what i'm poking at. some conservatives and indeed some liberals have explained the striking disdense by describing buckley as moving away from his
original positions on race. they had a "new york times" q&a on the matter. he did recant. he did indeed support segregationists in the south but later changed his views. end quote. in this reading of buckley's political development, white supremacists becomes the dry husk of an unfortunate idea. a bad misunderstanding, anything burr a foundational element in modern conservatism in h the intervening years that has been crumpled into dust. government having nothing to do nothing essentially to do with race. i see something else in the disconnect between buckley's unabashed racist and anti-democratic rhetoric at the conservative founding and the rarity today of racist anti-democratic language in mainstream political conservatism. i see in the narrative of buckley's recanting a complicated process of historical denial.
one of the important things about that process to me is that it may raise questions for all movements, indeed for all of mum endeavor about how we define ourselves through our histories. . how we come to think we know what we think we know. often cited -- when this discussion gets going is the answer to a question posed in a "time" magazine interview in 2004. have you ever taken any positions you now regret? buckley, yes, i once believed we could evolve from jim owe. i was wrong. federal intervention was necessary. i was wrong. if p buckley can engage in such forthright self criticism, admit error and trace his own growinging enlightenment, then white supremicism. he was wrong about a position far other than the one he actually took in the 1950 ds and 1960s. why the south must prevail asserts a right, really a duty
of southern whites not to evolve out of jim crow, but to fight to preserve it. albeit temporarily on the basis of the white race's supposed advancement. the essay concludes this way. so long as it, he means the south, so long as the south is merely asertding the right to impose superior more rays for whatever period it takes to get a genuine equality between the races and so long as it does so by humane and charitable needs, the south is in step with civilization, as is the congress that permits it to function. that's the hope buckley expressed in '57. not that the nation might shed jim crow organically, but that during some period of time during what he saw as the spear your culture of the white south the negro may be enabled to evolve out of what buckley saw as a back wardness that made jim crow not only permissible, but necessary to defend.
in this context it's worth underscoring how he defined seg edd segregation. as a means of imposing superior more rays. some see his 2004 remarks as a recanting for his position on race in the '50s and '60s. i don't think those remarks admit the position he expressed in the '50s and '60s, much less recant it. during a 2006 pbs interview, he had this exchange with judy woodrff. do you have any major regrets along the way? buckley, think we made a mistake in 1962 in opposing the civil rights act. the one opposed by goldwater who was constitutionally advised by a men who was ten years later chief justice of the united states. and that's a little weird moment.
he makes a little slip there that i don't make anything of. i don't think it's significant. but says ten years later rehnquist was chief justice. ten years later he was appointed to the court. it wasn't until '86 that he became chief justice appointed by reagan. i don't think it's significant. but it's a slip. so in case there's any confusion about that. he means rehnquist. and buckley goes on, yes, and we were persuaded that was correct. i regret it. i think the impact of that bill should have been welcomed by us. and that transcended what would become a constitutional formalism. end quote. when developing positions for the '64 presidential campaign, to construe right wing oppositions as a strict reading of the constitution, having nothing specifically to do with superiority and inferiority in race. that's how the court today and much of today's conservative
movement makes the move too. he said he regretted the angle for the constitutional formalism. if he were really implying he would have supported the '62 act if rehnquist wouldn't have talked him out of it, buckley would have been making a pres preposterous statement. by the time of the goldwater campaign, nearly ten years of unrelenting objection to every form of civilization had appeared in the national review, and the the magazine's coverage managed to blend that strict constitutional argument, supposedly race neutral with the buckley idea that cultured he deemed superior have a duty to violate the constitution whenever the civilization cause dmanz it. he might not have met something else in raising this issue of rehnquist influence. conservative ideology took a bumpy ride from the high culture row row row mant schism expressed in
his early work, to reagan's triumph in 1980. that bumped through the 1968 election of richard nixon, a figure notably accent from the smooth history of the rise of the right. buckley's place in nixon's achievement as well as buckleyite race rhetoric may be clarified by buckley's way of seeming to admit error in 2006. again, the nuts and bolts political context is illuminating to me. in the 1950s a decade or so before the goldwater campaign rehnquist serving as clerk to justice jackson wrote him a memo on the decision brown versus board of education. rehnquist's memo makes startling reading today. it states the supreme court is not a good place for ruling on individual rights. the memo suggests that neither the bill of rights nor the 14th amendment can be enforced by
judicial review in communities where asserting those rights is opposed by the majority. that is they can't be enforced at all. quote, in the long run, rehnquist wrote in the long run, majorities will decide what the constitutional rights of minorities are. so there is we can discern a distance on behalf of equal rights. both ways of thinking deny african-americans equality, but to rehnquist black zitcitizens cannot enforce their rights anywhere a majority of whites oppose it. to buckley where the blacks are in the majority, a minority of rights has a duty to take any measures necessary including illegal measures to prevail against them. fit tightly together, those opposed positions perfectly close african-americans out of the political process. but by 1964, those positions weren't fitting tightly
together, strategically. buckley's version the errand undertaken by supposedly refined elites on behalf of refinement itself fell out with the rehnquist strategy. the plan was to seize the party and then woo a majority by appealing to a working elect rat on a platform of decisions within the states right framework. that had strong appeal for white citizens resisting federal enforcement of racial equality and integration in their neighborhoods. farther in parcel of the plalt platform was the the elitism against the liberal establishment coming to favor segregation segregation. buckley's to the overwhelming claims of hyper civilized maternalistic ruling class rang an eccentric note in the right strategies. the white south did not resemble the aristocracy he had mustered
up. the politically vital south of the '60s we blue collar proudly unrefined, red neck, as the term of the day had it. buckley es taned the class for the roughneck violence, all around crudeness, really for the nail your to live up to genteel standards, even as he concurred in deeming the votes right for the plucking. that conflict is evident in a remark he made for laughs. what is wrong in mississippi is not that enough negroes have the vote but that too many whites are voting. the crack my represent a change from 1957, but only in the sense that it's spread to disdain for red neck who is have so marketedly faileded to convince the south of buckley's dreams. such remarks did not fit well with the right wing plan for taking over the republican party and winning the presidency. they put buckley at odds, for example, with the tough
republican stratist kevin phillips, an author of the appeal to the white working class. squire willie, that's what phillips liked to call buckley. maybe he meant he regretted relen kwishing his militancy about the rights of civilizations an ak we esing in a argument favoring instead the the power of local majorities. what buckley unhappily called constitutional formalism in 2006 connects with those dry and dispassionate rationales. mainly and notely empty of race or class rhetoric. recently with the roberts court pushing back civil rights and e other liberal efforts. it took conservatives of the '60s some time to work up this strategy. rehnquist was on it in '62 when he identified a supposedly strict constitutional basis for opposing civil rights laws. buckley was opposing such laws, at least as late as '65.
the strategy made a glimpse to the strangely elaborate and passive construction that in buckley's exchange with woodruff i think that bill should have been welcomed by us. in 1968 nixon did become only the second republican president elected since 1928. it's a harsh fact in liberal history the new deal coalition thrived so long in large part because it declined to enforce constitutional rights in the solidly democratic jim crow south. now republican strategists phillips were correctly predicting thatpredict ing that white volters would leave the democratic party in droves. the famous southern strategy played a key role in his election. so the impact of that bill as buckley put it in 2006 as well as the impact of later civil rights legislation, meant a happy outcome for conservatives. the collapse of the 30 plus year new deal coalition. and the end of the democrats near lock on the white house.
the impact was something pms were working on. out of formalist opposition to civil rights laws, developed the references to states rights, big government, law and ord ir and finally welfare queens and so on that became so familiar in american public dialogue beginning at the end of the '60s. quote, now y'all ain't quoting me on this. end quote. that's lee atwater in 1981. atwater, he was a young right-wing operative who moved seamlessly from strom thurman to ronald reagan. they did kwoelt himquote him on how it was done. say stuff like states rights and all that stuff. you're getting so abstract. now you're talking about cutting taxes and all these things are totically economic things and a by-product is blacks get hurt
worse than whites. atwater went onto make him the running mate, end quote, in 1988. in the 1988 election of george w. bush. i suspect for buckley conservative's political successes came with disappointments. the dirty trick viciousness he so revelled in behind the scenes. formal theoretical economic. buckley's daring do, his happy warfare, so evidence on television and in print was subordinate subordinated. it's ironic in the reagan his success buckly lybuckley started to become a one man show. the baldwin debate coming after goldwater's failure shows buckley as a crux. there he finds in ethnic and
racial terms what he was talking about. calling it quote, the faith of our fathers, end quote. he concluded with a revealing vision of an upcoming outright war in which buckley and others reduced to an island of civilization, come under vicious assault of an aggressor. a force of sheer dark ages ignorance associated by buckley once with adolph hitler and james baldwin. black equality buckley tells the audience at cambridge, was not longer the goal. the goal has become the white race. buckley vows to fight this war just as his english audience fought. and not for mere self-preservation but on behalf of the enemy itself, for negroes. that's the quote. at his climax, buckley sounds to me like he's psyching himself up for a boys adventure of virtuous violence. but he also knew a deflating
truth. real political victory would require other tales, other rhetoric. such were the developing partisan calculations of the day. i think it's fair to call them like much cynical. and i think they sometimes gave buckley a sense of frustration a letdown from the exciting images he begun the movement by cultivating. which i think we can hear unabashed at the baldwin debate but we don't show you any on race. his original positions don't seem to have been denounced, only deflected. a narrative in which over time buckley gains insight on race. and fore swears his earlier views. blurs out the day-to-day real world politics of buckley's life and times. but that may be e the effect of all historical denial. to erase politics. thank you very much. [ applause ]
>> so we now have time for question and answer. i'd like to remind everyone since we have c-span filming the event, please wait for the microphone and keep it brief so we have time for conversation. >> so i have two questions. first of them is to patrick. you said in '63, '65 buckley's thoughts started to change. i wonder how we know for certain that that happened? are there some editorials that showed the change in his thinking? and then also both of you have mentioned buckley as being a
leading light in the conservative movement. could you situate him within that movement how -- was he the leading light or was he competing with other conservative thinkers at the time? so how do we situate him within that codray of thinkers? >> in response to the first question, at the time of the '63 confrontations, national review wrote editorials disavowing the violence by the public services. and accepting the reasonableness of the civil rights activist. it wasn't unequivocal. wrote a very scathing critique of kings letter from birmingham jail. said the way we're really going to get progress in civil rights is by voting for goldwater now again seems like a paradoxical thing to say. but already by then they'd abandoned the -- these claims
that civilization was at stake and that white supremacy was the necessary precondition for the preservation of civilization. as to the question of buckley's leadership of the movement, he was never really a great intellectual. i think he liked the idea of himself as a big thinker. but he realized he was much better at things like publicity, bringing together groups of clever people who were cantankerous and awkward and publishing their work together under banners of headlines of a difficult matter. what bill said was right. at first he could indulge himself with these ideas of romantic chivalrous defensive civilization. because it seemed to unlikely that his movement was going to win. and as it started to approach real success in electoral politics, he was forced to abandon using such as the idea that there are more important things in the world than ma
jortarian democracy. it was an astonishing assertion. i think he was sincere in that. what's the good of having more and more voters if the voters you've got are incredibly ignorant like many of the whites of mississippi are. i think that came from the heart. of course he realized you mustn't make remarks like that if you're trying to turn your intellectual movement into a political reality. >> i'd agree i don't think his main claim to fame is as an intellectual leader. he was appealing to a lot of people. and he was really a performer in certain ways. but i think what i'm focused on is more like well when he died in terms of the legacy, how he was constructed and described -- clearly george willis being complicit there. but he's chasing a large agreed upon idea. and certainly reagan applied to
it too. whether it was or not is maybe a slightly different question. but i'm interested in how that he's held up as that figure and then there are these conflicts kind of within how would that leadership that he's being sort of credited for, how some of his explicit ideas are not any longer really dealt with. >> found interesting as you both traced the history is this tuck of war between ideology and political philosophy. and the realities of electoral politics. i think especially in the second lecture came out. so what do you think it is? does philosophy and political ideology, which one leads, i guess? which one pushes? which one pulls? or are they constantly butting up against each other and something new comes out?
>> that's a deep question. and i don't know the answer. i do think that part of the burden of my piece is to push a little bit back against things looking at things so ideology. but to look at how it is framed in some nuts and bolts political ways. and how it's affected by that and how it would affect that. i think reagan really was sincerely influenced by buckley's thought. so that is the push/pull. i'm taking a more conservative position regarding history just because i like political history which may be the more traditional form of history than intellectual history or social and cultural history. i'm trying to make an oblique case for that as a way of understanding the ideology and criticize it. but yeah. that's the back and forth between politics and ideology is definitely one of my subjects and i don't know the answer to which comes first. >> democratic politics is all
about compromise and one of the things that gets compromised is intellectual purity. it is true that if you look at the long-term history of the political parties there's no question that ideas have moved them. that each party today is in a very different position than it was in 1960. and that one of the things that led to their movement is the persuasiveness of the ideas put forward by buckley and others like him. >> so i'm interested in hearing your thoughts about something else that happened in 1965 with buckley. and that's of course the mayoral election in new york. so patrick, you described buckley in 1965 as experiencing going through a great
transition. you described him as -- at a crux. i wonder how those dynamics in that moment of transition in that crux how they played out in the mayoral race. whether that particular moment is an important part of that transitional or crux story that you're both telling. >> buckley ran for mayor in new york in 1965 on the conservative party ticket and did it as a way of approaching the mainstream candidates, john lindsay the republican and abraham beam the democrat. he said it's sickening to watch new york politics in action because of the absolutely unmitigated hypocrisy of the candidates who pander to each of the ethnic groups in turn pretending to be deeply affectionate to the ways of those groups while secretly despising them. he said what i'm going to do by contrast is tell the truth about the political issues. during the debates and campaigns of '65 with the knowledge he was going to lose he told the truth as he saw it. very often scandalizing the
political conventions of the time. but having the opportunity as he did so to lampoon lindsay and beam. there's a famous moment a journalist said to him what's the first thing you're going to do if you're the winner of the election? to which buckley said demand a recount. he knew he was going to lose. in fact, that might be the last time that buckley looked at his work as having a humorous element rather than a practical political element. it was from then on the increasing influence in the late '60s and early '70s did enable him to glimpse the success and that led him to discipline himself to no longer undertake adventures of that kind. >> yeah. it was a theatrical candidacy. but it had -- i don't know as much -- i think we'll hear more about it later today, i hope. but i don't know all the details. i think one of the interesting things there is the way he was in part embraced by this
emerging working class new york electorate electorate. at least wasn't embraced enough to win, but some of his arguments were popular with that group as that group was emerging to become probably in the end nixon democrats. i grew up in new york at that time. i remember the candidacy. if you went knocking on doors for huebert humphrey in '68 in formerly solidly democratic neighborhoods, just as in the south people were fleeing the democratic party and moving to nixon. that was the beginning of the hard hat versus the hippies and all that that went on in new york and around the country. i think that candidacy probably has an interesting set of things to say about that.
>> is buckley still relevant today? is he read by modern conservatives? does he provide them with material that they can use in today's political context? and second question i have perhaps more of an observation is while i agree that the term segregation while dare not speak its name today the reality in terms of both residential living patterns and economic realm that segregation whatever name you want to put on it today still exists quite profoundly. >> to answer the first question, buckley's relevance is diminishing quite streepeeply. he's becoming a historic figure. you're seeing the witting wisdom of william buckley with little remarks he made out of context. to put them back in context
would often be embarrassing. that's one thing. and second because very often he was deeply preoccupied with the immediate political controversies of the moment. most of which have passed by. they're no longer relevant to what's happening. although he liked the idea of himself as a systemic political philosopher, i don't believe he achieved that status. it would be hard to put together buckley's political philosophy. because he was mainly a journalist and commentator and editor and publicist. was changing with the times. it's a little bit like the way in which a large group of americans now think of winston churchill as a good thing. but they don't have the details of most of the political controversies he was involved with. in that sense he's becoming a saint. to your second point about segregation, i agree obviously there's still a very large measure of actual segregation in the world in the united states. but nevertheless i think it's very important that it's no longer legally enforceable.
and that it's regarded universally as disgraceful. obviously that doesn't mean it goes away, but it's a necessary first step. >> there is that distinction between de facto segregation. >> that's right. >> and i would act that de facto segregation continues to exist. >> yes, reasonably enough. but that doesn't mean that it's legal abolition was an insignificant step. i think it was a vital step. >> on the question of how relevant he is today i don't know, you know, whether conservatives would rely on -- what's interesting, i agree. i don't think he did have a totally thoroughly worked up political philosophy or any -- i mean, it's interesting how he was something of a libertarian, of course. but i don't think he's in step with a lot of libertarianism today in some ways. and that libertarianism that he had, given all the thinking he
enjoyed, he sound aristocrat kal. that's an interesting relationship to have libertarianism. that gets back into that question of freedom. freedom was an important philosophy of buckley, i think. but a certain kind of freedom. reminds he of -- i see buckley as a fantasist. but there is that question about freedom. how much un-freedom are you willing or eager to tolerate or have in others to, you know, sort of enable your own freedom? and i think that is a question in his work that -- i think the freedom question comes up in that way around segregation. >> actually, i wonder if i could say one more thing that might be relevant here. i agree that the libertarianism bumps up against his anti-come in addition. in other words his view was when we have to defeat this enemy, with unof the things we
have to have is a military apparatus. and people have got to pay for it. they've got to be willing to serve in the military and so on. libertarianism and economics pulls against his idea of a strong state for military reasons. surely the only even halfway intellectually mccarthyism written is it's true that mccarthy plays dirty political tricks. on the other hand mccarthy understands the one big reality which is we're at war with communism and we can't afford to be too meticulous about the nice tis tie. >> and niceties is a way of putting that, but it's funny that that whole idea begins long
ago. whenever there's a potential for conflict especially dire global conflict, those freedoms become you know, niceties and they have to become secondary to the war effort. but that thinking also leads people to shore up authority. and i think those -- i think he went around and around in circles on those things in his entire career, actually. >> i want to thank both of you. this is really fascinating and rich. i wanted to ask patrick to say a little bit more about the claim that by 1920 nobody could publicly defend slavery. it strikes me that you have 1915, birth of a nation, being screened in the white house. he ends the book with a chapter called the propaganda of history that's all about the ways in which the teaching of history
was in defense of slavery to a large extent. not to the idea it could be revived but that reconstruction was a disaster. and so i'm interested in that and i also -- you know i've been thinking about whether or not sec gags is plausibly defended in respectable circles today. and i think about trent lott's tribute to strom thurmond. one of the interesting things about his tribute suggesting that now we know that thurmond was right in some senses was that some of the response to that claim was that lott was being racially insensitive. so it was not that lott was at least implicitly celebrating a violently enforced system of racial domination, but that lott was not thinking about the feelings of african-americans.
and that to me resonates with some of the moves that i see buckley making in the 1965 debate. the shift from the violence that's actually taking place to the sensitivities of women and men who were claiming victimhood. >> well now, again on the first question, if you think about -- that's right. the birth of a nation and the racial politics of the early 20th century, i think i'd say that's, that could be used in support of my point as well as yours that the claim was made. it isn't that the abolition of slavery was wrong, it's that radical reconstruction was wrong. woodrow wilson's view, according to what thought to have happened was that the post-slavery south should have been entrusted with the restoration of a proper racial hierarchy but the carpet baggers came down and disrupted
it. in other words, there's nothing in birth of a nation or racial politics of the first two decades of the 20th century to suggest, well, on reflection we ought to go back to slavery. quite the opposite. there was something you couldn't possibly raise as a sympathetic project to the future. and in fact so much so that even to suggest it seems weird, doesn't it, that we're all utterly familiar with the fact that slavery died once and for all in 1865 and was never coming back. i think that's true anyway. the question about trent lott, wasn't that the most ruinous set of remarks that he ever made? what he did there was he briefly transgressed the written powerful law. no longer say anything at all in favor of segregation. and by the fervency of his remarks, he accidentally or maybe intentionally crossed the line of saying segregation was a good thing and thurmond was
right to defend it. and in doing so annihilated his own political prospects. whoever talks about trent lott anymore? haven't heard his name for years until you brought it up. >> really quickly what about convict leasing? we're talking about the early party part of the 20th century. the institutions of slavery. and part of what we're hearing is shifting in rhetoric right? and shifts in rhetoric and consistency in practice. right? so throughout the south at the end of the 19th century and turn of the century, convict leasing is taking shape. it's a form of slavery right? and it's justified throughout the south, right? would you not concede that claim? and we know also in terms of
post-civil rights act and voting rights act, right? we'll push it to '68 legislation, right? in the south people are leaving public schools and starting parochial schools. there's a sense in which daily life there's a commitment to, right, the details of segregation and how people live their lives. even though they're not talking about it. i mean this is the language of color blindness. but it becomes another way in which a kind of ideology of white supremacy continues to live under different conditions. what would you say to that? >> i suppose it come dounss down to the degree to which you think the sanctioned view is more important or the social reality is more important. as historians we look at both of them. of course it's true that convict leasing was a form of slavery. but at least there were various
safeguards written into it to prevent the idea that it was heritable. it's provisional and it's under the state rather than under individuals. obviously that's cold comfort for the convicts in question but there's a distinction which i think is worth making. similarly with things like parochial schools after the end of official segregation, the motive of parents putting their children into parochial schools must often have been a racial one. but whether it still is is i think a little bit more dubitable. i think they're aware they can't violate the desegregation laws and to do so will bring down the weight of prosecution on their heads. the result is they have become
desegregated even if not fully so and that the experience of biracial education even if it's in a mitigated form has got long-term consequences. >> i was interested in the earlier remarks about the cold war context of this. could you say more about buckley's view on the connection between civil rights, the vietnam anti-war movement, and nixon going to china? >> it took a long time for american anti-communists to realize. first in the mccarthy days the assumption was that come in addition is the same everywhere and it's equally horrible everywhere. but gradually the deterioration
gave rise to the insight with people like nixon and kissinger that it might be possible to drive a wedge between them. and if they could do so, they certainly should. to increase antagonism in the communist world is going to weaken communism. buckley at first was a supporter of the role in vietnam but gradually started to recognize that it was an unwinnable war unless the united states used nuclear weapons which for moral reasons couldn't possibly afraid to be able to do. at that point he became sympathetical to engage. that it didn't have the catastrophic consequences that they thought it was going to have. obviously the americans got involved in vietnam because they were using the analogy of the late 1930s. we ought to have attacked hitler much sooner. if we'd attacked him when he was weak, we could have defeated him easily and saved 50 million
lives. and so by the same reasoning let's attack communism when it's weak and far away. if we don't, we'll have to attack it later. it's much harder to defeat when it's stronger and closer. that was the analogy and it turned out to be an inadequate one. i think bit by bit the american conservatives themselves realized that. i don't think there's an immediate connection between that line of thinking and the line of thinking about civil rights. but again, one of the things that buckley really did believe, i think, one of his central beliefs was america is now the best guardian that western civilization has got. and it's a wonderful civilization for all its imperfections and everything we can do to safeguard that civilization we ought to do. and if that means transforming racial relationships at home okay, we'll do that. if it means changing our foreign policy posture, we'll do that. that the really important issue is to make sure that the west
prevails with america as its leader. >> yeah. i don't think i have anything to add to that. i'm actually interested in your question about nixon and china and what buckley had a specific response to that and i don't know the answer. but it would be interesting to know how he read that at the time. to look at his column and see what he had to say. i'm sure he talked about it in his syndicated column, but i don't know. >> i'm going to jump in here and ask a question myself with the hope that maybe while i'm asking it some of these excellent linfield college students who have been reading buckley might muster the courage to come up with a great question before this session ends. i'm curious to stick with buckley in the 1950s. in the publisher's statement for national review he refers to the sort of fixed postulates that he sees the conservative movement obligated to defend against these liberals. both of you referred to --
especially patrick referred to this critique of liberalism as this spineless ideology. but it seems two years later when he writes why the south must prevail, it's a strongly moralist document. so maybe i'm looking for, you know philosophical consistency where there is none or is this an example of him just picking and choosing when the sort of fixed postulates the catalog of rights of the american citizens born equal, that is scuttled very quickly in why the south must prevail and he goes onto this defensive hierarchy and racial sub board nation. i'm just wondering what you make of that apparent inconsistency. >> i think he does in that piece make a claim to an absolute. but i think it's his only moral absolute. it's sort of made up. he's being very counterintuitive in a way there. saying the constitution is not the be all and end all there
are bigger things than that. and the funny irony to me is there are areas in which the majority does not get to rule. and they have to do with individual rights. rindquist didn't agree. he thought no majority is always going to decide what e the minorities rights are. but there are sides that transcend majority rule. buckley wasn't interested in those. that's individual rights. equality are individual rights. they do not always succumb to majority rule. but that's not what he's interested in. he's interested in these kind of higher claims of civilization which i think he kind of tried to investnt in his own posture and way of talking and debate and all this stuff. but it's a funny thing because he's making a huge claim on some gigantic absolute. but it's not really one we