What Would Buckley Do?

It’s worth asking what Buckley might have thought about his magazine’s tweeting of #BlackLivesMatter. It was Buckely, after all, who (most likely) penned an unsigned editorial in NR from 1957, “Why the South Must Prevail”:

The central question that emerges—and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal—is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.

It’s the kind of stuff that makes Salon readers’ hair stand on end. But even here we can sense that Buckley is hedging, and gauging in which direction the wind blows. Or perhaps this passage reveals that Buckley was simply a man who never had any racial feelings whatsoever, and who supported Southerners simply as a future Republican voting block. Segregation is justified “for the time being,” because Whites are more “civilized.” To borrow a common euphemism among pollsters, Buckley didn’t think America was “ready” for de-segregation (much like we are now asked whether America is “ready” for gay adoption). In 1959, Buckley wrote, “There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities. The problem is not biological, but cultural and educational.” This might be one of the first uses of the meme—so popular among “conservatives,” including Ann Coulter—It’s not about race; it’s about culture.” Five years later, Buckley wrote to a 16-year-old, “Segregation is morally wrong if it expresses or implies any invidious view of a race, not so if it intends or implies no such thing.” If such sentiments reveal anything, it is the delusional nature of Buckley’s reasoning.

A certain myth has arisen, among leftists and race realists alike, that the “old NR” was a bastion of the White Right. This is true, of course, in the meaningless sense that almost everything about the ‘50s and ‘60s now seems more “European,” “wholesome,” and “traditionalist” in comparison to the lifestyles promoted by popular magazines in the grocery-store checkout line. The key issue is the direction in which the arrow was pointing. William F. Buckley and his movement unequivocally laid the intellectual groundwork for the #cuckservative Right of today. People like George Will are right to invoke Buckley’s legacy in policing “respectability.”