Bill Buckley:Getting It Wrong!

Conservatism contra Objectivism.
How and why the fratricidal war between Bill Buckley’s Conservatism and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism came about has always interested me as an exercise in philosophical archeology. Why would two philosophies which shared so many ideas each dismiss the other as apostate.The short answer is that Conservatism is essentially too conservative and Objectivism is too much a product of modernism. When Mr. Buckley(who is probably the greatest living practitioner of the English Language) famously proclaimed that Conservatism should “Stand athwart history shouting STOP!”, he may have heard an echo from the next mountaintop over. An echo? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was the far away voice of John Galt shouting the same admonishment from across the abyss.
Both Rand and Buckley were strident opponents of communism,but their opposition sprang from different roots.Rand’s Objectivism was based on the proposition that the best goal of mankind was the happiness of the Individual, which ought naturally to spring from his own efforts and needs rather than those of any collective society. The Conservative movement, which Mr.Buckley so successfully defined had a much longer pedigree than the upstart Objectivism, and that became the basis for the eventual ex-communication of the Objectivists. The use here of a religious analogy is more appropriate than may at first be apparent. The conservatives based their moral belief system in the great Judeo-Christian(or at least Deist) traditions of their forebears. Notions of right and wrong(much like the Second Amendment) were the gifts of the creator and could not be questioned. The Bible and the moralists who shaped the intellectual history of Europe and the enlightenment were held to be the only glue that could hold a society together, else the four Horsemen would surely descend upon a greedy and brutal mankind.This was of course nothing but argument by Divine Right. Right and wrong were handed down by God and those who dared to tinker with that authority were deemed heretical.Rand was an avowed Atheist and deemed those who would control the masses through mysticism, “Mystics of the Mind”.Similarly, those who ruled by brute force she termed the ” Mystics of Muscle” Both types of society were abhorrent to her because they were based on coercion. The priest rules or the gun does. Her alternative was radical Free Market Capitalism. No apologies needed. Capitalism was morally superior to any other system because it could only be voluntary. It was not superior because it produced the greatest good for the most people(though it in fact did), but because it was not forced upon the individual by the priest or the predators. Rand abhorred “altruism” as the sacrifice of the healthy for the sake of the sick and she abhorred most of all that mediocrity of carachter that demanded of their societies that their needs be met by the labor of others. Buckly and the conservatives were loath to give up their laboriously constructed tree of authority by precedent.Indeed, they succeeded to an extent in at least re-directing history for the better(somewhat). The conflict between reason and tradition is the deep dark secret that conservatives do not want to talk about. I was deeply disappointed when I finished Bill Buckley’s book”Getting it Right”, because he never brought this or any other real philosophical points to the table. For an intellect as great as his to use his novel as nothing more than an ad-homonym attack on Ms. Rand is beneath him.Admittedly, Rand’s salon psychophants did behave strangely, as did the author herself in her personal life. But at least one of them (Alan Greenspan) went on to become the pre-eminent economist of our time, and Objectivism represents the great unrealised dream of individual liberty better than any other existential system today.Thank-you Mr. Buckley for all you have done, and thank Ms. Rand for showing us a vision of what still needs to be.

11 thoughts on “Bill Buckley:Getting It Wrong!

  1. Whooo.
    Buckley is, without a doubt, the preeminent sesquipedalian sniper of the intellect gracing the airwaves these days, but what a bore.
    Guess his momma never told him that polite people move their mouths when they talk.
    “Stan athward history …”?!?!
    Sounds like a luddite calcified intellect in action. The buildup of bitchery in Buckley’s brain is obviously taking its toll.
    While Rand’s Objectivism can be summed up in the image of a boy standing amidst his kicked over sandcastle crying, “It’s not fair!”; Buckley’s conservatism should be represented by the boy’s mother, standing between his castle and the ocean and striving to keep it back.
    Yah, religious analogies are always dangerous, but herein apt, mein alte. The same night-terrors and dreads that drive otherwise competant intellects to throw up their figurative (and otherwise) hands and shout, “Help me, help me!” are nearly identical to Buckley’s conservative (pardon, CONSERVATIVE) movement’s night-terrors and dreads of the commies and socialists, but without a monotheia to bow to.
    No doubt Bill hoped (indeed, strove) to fill that spiritual void, much as Paul, but St. Buckley failed for the same reason King Dubya is failing: fear is a terrible way to live.
    Ultimately, Buckley’s demons were shown to be rickety, frail old things that tottered and fell of their own weakness.
    Ultimately both Rand and Buckley promoted philiosophies that were IN OPPOSITION. They were, in a real philosophical sense, the true nattering nabobs of negativism. When their opponents turned out to be palookas, the stridency and extremism of their fight merely illustrated the nannyism inherent in their own positions.
    Sure, let their philosphies reconcile. Let their followers hug and together tell “red scare” stories around their self-fueled campfires atop. Let the echoes of their philosophies harmonize in the canyons of history.
    And then, like any good echoes, let them fade into their justly earned obscurity.

  2. Red,

    Has anyone ever told you that your prose style is both shrill and condescending? Yeah, Bill’s voice was made for the printed page. You’ll never hear him on talk radio, but he’s a first-rate wordsmith. His ideas are both well-considered and compelling. You just might consider that the conservative position is based on a firm pedagogy of limited government and maximum freedom, not FEAR. And we recognize tyranny when we see it, whether domestic or foreign. Tyranny need not be feared, but it must always be fought. Failure to recognize communism as tyranny fails to honor the forty-or-so millions who died at the hands of Stalin and Mao, to name only two of the most imfamous. Is it possible that the American Left would stoop to such tactics if given a monopoly on the use of armed force? Ask the family of Elian Gonzales, snatched in the middle of the night by a S.W.A.T. team and bundled off to Cuba. Facists aren’t the only ones who practice “nacht und nebel”.

    As for Rand vs. Buckley, I’m in the camp of the latter. Rand is too materially motivated for my tastes. “Most happiness for the most people” is too vague. In fact, it smacks of Peter Singer, leftist darling, material philosopher and atheist. Or, I should say, his work smacks of Rand. Don’t like either of them. Buckley can speak for himself. There’s nothing I can do to enhance his ideas. More later when I have the time . . .

  3. Basil
    Please allow me to clarify one point about Objectivist theory.”Most happiness for most people” is indeed a socialist or mechanistic idea and would be anethema to Rand. I wrote that the Objectivist goal was the greatest happiness for the Individual. The fact that free market capitalism produces the most good for the most people is a consequence of freedom itself, but the concept of creating a system for that purpose alone would have struck Rand as absurd or indeed tyrannical.She fled the re-education camps of the Red Pioneers precisely because that was the slogan that they mouthed while confiscating all private property and creating an all powerful state machine. The individual existed only to serve the state.Rand’s famous declaration that”I will live my life for no man, and will allow no man to live his life for me” is about as anti-socialist as it gets.As for the philosophy being too materialistic, The way I view Galt’s “revolt” is as a resounding rejection of materialism, if it can only be purchased at the price of slavery. Bill Buckley will always have my greatest admiration, but through no fault of his, the entire conservative movement is drowned in a vat of what Nietzsche described as”Moralic Acid”. Reason is Man’s highest pursuit, and it should be freed from ancient notions of right and wrong that are simply blind tradition. “Re-valuation of all values!”(F.N. again-sorry)
    All the best~Muninn

  4. Baz,
    “BOTH shrill and condescending”?
    Dang, you flatter me.
    If I might interject, however, into your pedagogy (even though I am no longer a child), I did not mean to hit the panic button with my reference to the communist/socialist monsters that haunted Rand and still lurk beneath the psyche of the conservative movement. Neither was I advocating. I merely observed the similarities between the motivations and tactics of the early Christians and those of the Conservative movement.
    You may now resume your abuse.
    I believe that extremism is dangerous, whether extreme collectivism or extreme individualism or extreme intellectualism; the key danger is in the extremism.
    Buckley has become a proselyte of one form of extremism, to the point where his epistomology cannot even abide so close a fellow-traveler as Rand.
    There is a word for such individuals: fanatics.

  5. Aethelred,
    Remember Barry Goldwater’s famous paraphrase of Cicero during the 1964 presidential campaign: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
    Some things just never change.

  6. Dang, again, Muninn. You never cease to amaze and surprise me.
    First Buckley and now GOLDWATER!!??
    Barry’s campaign was the stuff of legend. Unsuccessful, and ultimately the product of deranged intellect. But legendary, without a doubt. And what an orator … a man of the JFK mold, whose speeches could electrify and motivate the helpless and yearning youth of a generation to run into the desert naked.
    His philosophy did not live up to his rhetoric. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice …” sounds patriotic as all hell, but not when it constitutes an oxymoron in execution.
    The Tree of Liberty can, indeed, be a vampire, requiring blood sacrifice of those who shelter beneath its heavy limbs, to paraphrase old Thom. Jefferson (my own hero, if you’d like to reconstruct him some time). But too much fertilizer or too much hot air will kill that tree just as quickly as refusing to “water” it with the vital fluids of the next generation.
    Extremist heroes are one thing, Muninn. Extremist armchair generals and pedagogues are another. Cries for violence from those who have never committed violence, for discipline from anarchists, for restraint from the profligate and for vigor from the languid are amusing to a point (just beneath the right ear — then they start to throb a bit).
    If we are to lead, we must act. If we fail to act, we cannot lead.
    Sorry to be both shrill and condescending in the same reply, but I have recently learned that this is endemic to my prose.

  7. I read this morning at NRO that the “extremist” Bill Buckley would vote no for additional troops. He doubts that Iraq is capable of creating a civil society, and predicts partition as the likely outcome. Some “fanatic” that Bill Buckley.


  8. Answering Red (again)
    Cries from those who have never served for military action! Howls for education reform from those who have never taught! Screaming for health care reform from those who have never worked in a hospital! By this logic anyone who is not credentialed should just shut up. Can a layman not have an informed opinion?


  9. Aethelred,
    Not to worry. Shrill and condescending I can deal with,but sometimes, frankly, I just dont get your point.
    “If we are to lead we must act.If we fail to act, we cannot lead.” Sounds great to me but what in the hell are you talking about “Der Fuhrerprinzip”?…”Motivate the helpless and yearning youth of a generation to run into the desert naked”??? I suspect you are reaching for an analogy of some type here, but…Nope-still dont get it. Charlie Manson perhaps???
    Some praise is due your last missive, I must admit. For once, there are no Men of Straw that need to be destroyed(Were you frightened by The Wizard of Oz or something as a child?). You managed not to call anyone posting here a fascist( I challenge you to even define fascist, and dont bother sending me that stupid wikipedia entry by the non-existant author that includes among fascism’s tenets Religious Extremism.)Be original! Thirdly, and that which is most remarkable, your Bush Derangement Syndrome(BDS)appears to be in remission as you have not injected an anti-dubya non-sequitor anywhere that I can locate, unless that was the whole meaning of that paragraph about “vigor from the languid” or “discipline from anarchists”. Actually, I spent the day(at your suggestion) reading up on Thomas Jeffreson. Pretty impressive guy I will admit, who also held some interestingly warm feelings for Anarchy. Your vocabulary and prose are well honed, I appreciate their sometimes breathtaking quality.Your world-view however,to me, is sometimes incoherent and inexplicable. Maybe if you typed slower I could understand it easier.(/:=[

  10. S-l-o-w-l-y I t-y-p-e.
    S-t-e-p b-y s-t-e-p,
    i-n-c-h b-y i-n-c-h.
    Fergit it, son, that’s too hard. Try to keep up.
    I am glad that you can appreciate the “honed” prose and vocabulary. I spend hours and hours honing. It’s a vice, I know, but it feels so goooood!
    To hone my worldview for you in this format (and without spellcheck) would be fruitless, not to say embarassing, but one day I will sit ye doon and enlighten the darkness of your perceptions, if you like.
    For the nonce (if we may call Basil that), I will simply say that I am for good things, and against bad things, much like the President.
    I hope that clears it up for you.
    No, no. I was not scared by the Scarecrow … it was those green-faced turncoats in Madam W. de West’s household guard. And don’t get me started on the flying monkeys.
    But I do feel that the rhetorical device of creating a false (and ultimately weak) intellectual position in opposition to your own premise (a “straw man”, as it were), and then proceeding to dismantle it – you know, like the imaginary “Liberal” position old Rush Hambone is always dissecting in between paper rustles – is both trite and ultimately self-defeating.
    As for Basil’s “strawman” reducio of my plaint, that “anyone who is not credentialed should just shut up”, why heaven forefend! Who am I to suggest that,just because I never saw combat, or indeed, even served in the active military, I should not kibitz the decisions of the commanders. Why, that would call into question the very leadership of our nation!
    Besides, as a journalist, I NEVER had credentials, and as you know, that never shut me up. Far from it.
    It is just that memory serves me well and at times the MEMORY of what we three were, and how we were, conflict mightily with the apparently militaristic, power-worshipping and socially regimented (there, that’s a fair thumbnail of “fascist” for you, and, as far as I can tell, “original”, to boot) philosophies being promulgated here.
    I cavil for old time’s sake, but I seem to detect some apparent changes in attitude since the 1970s. But maybe that’s just me.
    As for my occasional sharpish observations, I apologize abjectly, but sometimes the use of shorthand antiliberal terminology copped from mindless grinning media puppets can be irksome to me. I shouldn’t let such things bother me, and I’ll try to do better.
    To current events … so Bill Buckley (in His clench-jawed wisdom) wouldn’t sacrifice any more troops to Dubya’s Dementia? Bra vo.
    No one ever said Buckley was a moron or a fool. He only occasionally tries to legitimize the insanity of morons and fools.
    Anyway, mein alte, if I amuse you, then I am satisfied. If I annoy you, then perhaps I touch a nerve that should be looked at more closely. However, if I am crying into the wind, or shouting down a played-out shaft, or performing some other totally pointless exercise in attempting to present an alternative path to goosestepping down the yellowbrick road, then I shall desist and trouble your dreams of Elephants no more.
    You need only ask.
    Shrilly and condescendingly yours,

  11. Aethelred,
    Keep posting alte Kamerade! You are more amusing than you imagine, but you have to play fair. When I was a kid playing football, everyone knew that it was way more fun to play defense than offense. Offensive players had to formulate and execute plans to move the ball down the field and score points. If you screwed up your assignment, everyone knew who to blame. In contrast, playing defense was a blast.All you had to do was crash through enemy lines and demolish the ball carrier, thereby wrecking the offenses complex machinations.There was also individual gratification as well as recognition for doing so. Problem was, you can rarely win by defense alone. Usually only the offense can score points and that is what wins games. The point of all this is that you never miss a chance to pile-on, but rarely formulate a coherent strategy.”I am for good things and against bad things.” Fascinating! I assume you also believe in gravity and expect the sun to rise tomorrow. Things have indeed changed since the 70’s. News flash-Jimmy Carter is no longer president(or coherent). Gas-rationing is a thing of the past(but I am sure The Pelosians have a plan to resurrect it). The Russkies could not even make East Germany profitable nor efficient, so quit the field and went home(apparently to watch the Sopranos).Not much has happened since then. Oh, there is now a war going on with the caliphate, but as we learned from our intellectual leaders in the 70’s(Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Fidel, Jane Fonda and Che the barbarian)it is all our fault for being imperialists. Or capitalists. Or Fascist(good description btw.)Or sexist. Or racist.Goodness, it is hard to catalogue quite how despicable the U.S.A actually is. Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the shining path towards Egalite’,Fraternite’,Dhimmite’,etc…In other words, I eagerly await my turn to play defense. Post Sir! I beg of thee!
    P.S. Jo Ann sends Birthday Greetings to the lovely Ann, but knows not what date is proper.Please excuse the inexactitude.

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