Thursday, February 28, 2008

On William F. Buckey Jr.

He died yesterday at the age of 82. He was my first taste of American conservative thinking and for a while I thought that's what all American conservatives are: believers in the inherent superiority of the natural aristocracy of money and class. That type of a conservative was familiar to me from Europe, so I didn't initially realize how rare a species Buckley truly was in the large specimen cabinet of American wingnuts.

Thinking of him as representative also led me astray for some time in assuming that an intellectual debate was the way to converse with the most conservative of Americans. At least you could have talked with Buckley about facts and how to interpret them, I thought.

But Buckley wasn't all about old money and how to pronounce difficult and esoteric terms. He also used to be a racial segregationist and he never stopped being a believer in the idea that the little ladies should be seen but not heard. He wrote a piece in the 1950's about how the Southern whites really love the Southern blacks and how they understand that the blacks are wonderful people, as long as they enter the house through the kitchen door. While his later opinions on race were somewhat more moderate, reading that piece struck me as a good candidate for those substitution games: replace the word "blacks" with the word "women" and you get a nice, tight summary of one particular type of conservative sexism today.

I gather that Buckley wasn't happy about the way the Republican Party had changed since the 1970's (what with the unwashed masses of fundamentalists being allowed in), though I'm sure he understood that a base consisting of only people with inherited money and a good education would not have had enough votes to make any type of difference.

There aren't many conservatives of the Buckley type left. William Kristol comes to mind as a possible heir, though Kristol is much less bothered with facts.