The Spectacle Blog

Two WFB items

By on 2.28.08 | 3:39PM

As I've been looking around the landscape, I wanted to direct readers' attention to my friend Jaime's piece in the Standard about his travels with Bill in Switzerland. I think there's a longer essay waiting to be written at some point (howzaboutit, Jaime?), but for the time being you can catch a glimpse here.

Friendly asides out of the way, I also suggest looking at this important point brought up by Peter Robinson at the Corner. A few friends, unfamiliar with Buckley's work (they are working their way back into my good graces), asked me about Buckley's "opposition" to the civil rights movement, which Tim Noah woefully hyperbolizes at Slate. The answer is here:

BUCKLEY Well, we opposed that act on the grounds that it asked for constitutional liberties, in an age in which constitutional liberties were being mobilized for this cause and that, rather with abandon. And we saw them addressing a situation which we doubted could be addressed in that way, but I have a very full perspective on life in the South in those days, and it was life that simply assumed that whatever headway blacks made would be made within their own culture and that federal interposition would be simply a renewal of the Civil War. That was wrong. But that deception was very, very engaging.

I understand it is not enough to suggest that simply knowing a man exculpates him from any allegation of racism. But you didn't need to know Buckley to understand that his mind was incapable of claiming White supremacy. Here I allude to Noah's reference below noting that he "stood in the way of racial progress":
"In a 1963 column taking exception to the imminent march on Washington, where Martin Luther King would deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech, Buckley described himself as someone who believed that 'a federal law, artificially deduced from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution or from the 14th Amendment, whose marginal effect will be to instruct small merchants in the Deep South on how they may conduct their business, is no way at all of promoting the kind of understanding which is the basis of progressive and charitable relationships between the races."

Noah's assumptions are naive, Buckley's realistic. Buckley was asserting the view that no one could legislate the racism out of "small merchants in the Deep South." But Noah's naivete is representative of the "new" civil rights push for affirmative action. Having doubts about that inorganic process of eliminating racism once and for all is a sign that you're racist. Nonsense.

UPDATE: Tim Noah graciously responds:

"I tried to make clear in my obit that Buckley was not a racist. He was, I wrote, 'at best blind and at worst indifferent to the bigotry all around him.' That's not so different from the self-assessment Buckley provides here. As for the interpretation that Buckley's 1963 column stated simply that racism could not be legislated out of existence, I refer you to the text itself. Buckley was stating opposition to the Civil Rights Act even as a partial solution. What history has shown, I think, is that the civil rights legislation of the 1960s was necessary but not sufficient to rid this country of racism."

I guess I mistook "stood in the way of racial progress" to mean "racist," (Noah wins a point) but there's a pretty narrow distinction sitting here anyway. Progress, in Noah's definition, is the Civil Rights Act. Not even partially supporting it is being against making racial relations better. I still disagree.

It's a claim that gets repeated in different iterations later. Buckley is guilty of tolerating McCarthy, an unforgiveable offense unless you believe the presence of Soviet sympathizers in the U.S. government wasn't a threat worth looking into. Buckley was "soft on fascism," as though preferring Franco to the rabid anarchists that would have made Spain a ruin shows inconsistency in his views on individual liberty.

Perhaps this is just how a conservative -- an anti-Communist, a libertarian -- appears to someone of a different worldview. But I still don't get where this fits in:

...Sorry as we may be to mark Buckley's passing, we should be very glad that the country ignored much of what he had to say.

... As if to say that progress was only achieved in spite of him. Curious, since I thought much of it was achieved because of him.
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