The father of modern American Conservatism William F. Buckley is dead, and since his own obituary of Ayn Rand pulled no punches, neither will this brief note.
The man was an insufferable prig -- the prime mover in destroying America's honourable small-government Old Right and replacing it with the holy-rolling, big-government, state-worshipping conservatism still in evidence today. "Let us be clear as to Buckley’s impact," says one of the better brief obituaries I've seen around the traps so far:
First, it was he who gave voice to a bevy of “ex-communists” through his publication National Review. Many of them swapped communism for Catholicism but never really converted to supporting classical liberalism. They often remained statists to the end, simply preferring the pabulum of Jesus to the Marxist snake oil...
But Buckley’s leanings toward a Wilsonian foreign policy helped push the bipartisan policy that exists today. Both major parties are still the war parties... Nor should we forget that Buckley tried to justify a free society on the basis of religion. Everything he did was driven by his Catholicism. By justifying capitalism on the basis of religion Buckley was a recruiter for the Religious Right.
Ayn Rand gave Buckley's Conservatism an Obituary in 1960.
There are three interrelated arguments used by today's "conservatives" to justify capitalism, which can best be designated as: the argument from faith—the argument from tradition—the argument from depravity. [None are valid defences of capitalism, and the last requires freedom's defence to begin by spitting in one's own face.] Today's "conservatives" are futile, impotent and, culturally, dead. They have nothing to offer and can achieve nothing. They can only help to destroy intellectual standards, to disintegrate thought, to discredit capitalism, and to accelerate this country's uncontested collapse into despair and dictatorship.
Buckley returned the favour twenty-two years later when Rand died, declaring "Ayn Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn." Hardly true. However, now Bill Buckley too is dead, and so too is the mongrel grab bag of notions that flew under the banner he called conservatism dead; killed by the contradictions of its own creaky foundations, and well buried by Brad Thompson in a superb dissection called: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF AMERICAN CONSERVATISM, summarised in six parts here at NOT PC last year. You can see an index for the whole series at the foot of this post.
UPDATE 1: Bloomberg has the more mainstream obituary of the man.
UPDATE 2: If it's objected, as a few emailers have, that Buckley intellectually transformed and re-energised the intellectual movement for freedom, I have just one reply: Bullshit.
His fusion of capitalism and religion is not merely wrong, it's fatal -- the reason for his violent antipathy to Rand was that she pointed that out. After their only meeting she described Buckley as
Clever, but an intellectual light-weight. An opportunist. Very 'social'; not genuinely interested in ideas. And potentially dangerous, if he acquires an influence -- because he tells people that the foundation of capitalism is religious faith, which implies that reason and science are on the side of the collectivists.
There is no greater point that a defender of capitalism could concede, and Buckley's religio-conservatives handed it to their opponents as a free gift.
And in truth, opposing communism was the only thing that held Buckley's conservatives together -- indeed, as Robert Bidinotto describes, the disparate wings of the conservative political movement he fused together managed to remain together "only so long as it had a common enemy—the Soviet empire. But with the collapse of that enemy in 1989, the movement fell into disarray, sundered by a host of philosophical divisions that are regularly lamented even within the pages of his own National Review."
The divisions are given above in Rand's description, and their rending apart described in Thompson's piece, which is linked above.