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Erik Visits an American Grave (IV)

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I was driving through northwestern Connecticut yesterday. It was utterly lovely, with the leaves changing. An ideal bucolic American landscape. Among the nice places I drove through was the town of Sharon, near the New York border. But as I drove through, a horrible smell arose from the bowels of the Earth. Was this awful smell a mine or a mill? Was it an entryport to Hades? No. It was the rotting putrescent corpse of one of the worst human beings to ever foul the land of this fine nation, William F. Buckley.

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There’s barely any point in documenting Buckley’s many crimes against decency and humanity. But why not go ahead anyway.

Buckley himself had developed two arguments against civil rights, both of which were little more than disguised racism, both of which led the line at National Review. The first emerged early in his career. Since the 1950s, Buckley had argued that civil rights should be opposed not because black people were biologically inferior to white people, but because they were not yet “civilized” enough to take part in democratic government. Or, as Buckley put it in 1959, “There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities. The problem is not biological, but cultural and educational.”

This “lack of civilization” argument has a long pedigree dating back to the country’s earliest thinkers on the subject, including Thomas Jefferson. Even some black leaders, like Booker T. Washington, expounded on the idea, if with different motives. In the 1950s and 1960s, the argument pushed Buckley in surprising directions. After repeated questioning, he was sometimes forced to admit that, in his view, all uneducated people, black, white, brown, red, or yellow, should not be allowed to vote if they didn’t pass some sort of competency test. This was an undemocratic stance to say the least, but at least it was consistent with his idea that only “civilized” people should rule.

As he pushed this line of thought in the pages of National Review, Buckley argued that no one knew what levels of education should be mandatory to participate in a democracy better than local arbiters. Thus, for Buckley, the federal government had no business declaring equal access when it couldn’t differentiate between uneducated black people in Alabama and black graduates of Harvard. The federal government should butt out; states should decide. If Massachusetts wanted to limit the franchise based on an IQ test, that should be its prerogative.

Of course, no one in Massachusetts was advocating restrictions on voting rights for uneducated white people, and thus Buckley’s argument displayed a willful ignorance about the abuses that had taken place throughout the South during the previous one hundred years, when literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses kept the vast majority of black people from voting. Nevertheless, Buckley relied on this states’ rights argument for much the rest of his life. Buckley’s reaction to Brown, for example, was that it was “one of the most brazen acts of judicial usurpation in our history, patently counter to the intent of the Constitution, shoddy and illegal in analysis, and invalid in sociology.” He later added, “Support for the Southern position rests not at all on the question of whether Negro and White children should, in fact, study geography side by side, but on whether a central or a local authority should make that decision.”

He didn’t stop there. In 1957, Buckley wrote National Review’s most infamous editorial, entitled “Why the South Must Prevail.” Is the white community in the South, he asked, “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically?” His answer was crystal clear: “The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because for the time being, it is the advanced race.” Buckley cited unfounded statistics demonstrating the superiority of white over black, and concluded that, “it is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.” He added definitively: “the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”

And what method should be used to enforce the maintenance of “civilized standards”? According to Buckley, it should be a no-holds-barred defense, even including violence. “Sometimes,” he wrote, “it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical [white] minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.”

In other words, it was up to the white community to decide when violence was appropriate. Through its White Citizens’ Councils, the resurgence of the Klan, and the general refusal to prosecute crimes committed against black Southerners, by the 1960s the white South had made its decision. And rather than condemn it, Buckley stayed the course. In 1958, National Review printed a cutting article on the black politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., entitled, “The Jig Is Up.” Buckley professed not to know the racial connotations of the word “jig.” In his 1959 book, Up From Liberalism, Buckley responded to an African nationalist, saying, “Your people, sir, are not ready to rule themselves. Democracy, to be successful, must be practiced by politically mature people among whom there is a consensus on the meaning of life within their society.” In his next breath, Buckley turned to American civil rights leaders, saying, “In the South, the white community is entitled to put forward a claim to prevail politically because, for the time being anyway, the leaders of American civilization are white—as one would certainly expect given their preternatural advantages, of tradition, training, and economic status.”

Then there was Buckley’s position on apartheid:

In 1985, William F. Buckley, founder and editor of National Review, wrote a column defending — or, to put it more accurately, expressing — his sympathy for the Apartheid government of South Africa. Buckley wandered through a series of points that would embarrass his successors today, most notably his opinion that Nelson Mandela belongs in jail. Most interesting, Buckley argued not only that the South African government served the strategic interests of American foreign policy, and that Mandela was a dangerous radical, but that South Africa should not dismantle Apartheid:

President Botha of South Africa is incontestably right in saying in effect that he was not elected leader of his government in order to preside over the liquidation of the South Africa he was elected to govern. Critics are perfectly free to contend that his election does not suit our political criteria. But having admitted that his government does not do so, it hardly makes sense to criticize him for proceeding on the basis of his (misbegotten) criteria. If you criticize somebody for being mean to his mother, don’t be surprised if he goes on to be mean to his mother.

Buckley’s logic here, while circular, is also completely airtight. You can’t blame a white South African president for continuing a policy of white supremacy. He was elected by whites! If the whites-only electorate wanted to dismantle white supremacy, it would have chosen somebody else. So there. Buckley does allow that the principle of white supremacy may be “misbegotten,” but later in the column he explains that it’s not entirely wrong, either. (“One-man one-vote is a fanatical abstraction of self government that not even the United States tolerates institutionally,” Buckley argues, citing the malapportionment of the Senate.)

How did Buckley think we should deal with Vietnam?

The pity is that we are saving our tactical nuclear weapons for melodramatic use, for use, presumably, at the apocalypse towards which we may very well be headed in the long term. Take, for instance, the discussion of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the defense of Khesanh. By this time, so much attention has been given to the plight of Khesanh that to use these weapons, for the first time in military history, in the defense of Khesanh, suggests a mood of total desperation, perhaps even of panic. That interpretation feeds on itself, even as a bear market is said to justify itself.

The time to introduce the use of tactical nuclear arms was a long time ago, in a perfectly routine way, then there was not a suspicion of immediate crisis, of panic. In 1964, Senator Goldwater was burned in oil not even for advocating the use of low-yield atomic bombs for defoliation, but for reporting that the plan was under consideration by the Pentagon. Everyone got so worked up at the idea, that nobody thought to ask the question: Why not? The use of limited atomic bombs for purely military operations is many times easier to defend on the morality scale than one slit throat of a civilian for terrorism’s sake…

Did you ever care what Buckley had to say about The Beatles?

The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”

I could go on and delineate his positions on Joe McCarthy, the women’s movement, hippies, etc. But I can’t deal with this anymore. I think I will go shoot some heroin in my veins instead.

William F. Buckley is buried in the St. Bernard Cemetery in Sharon, Connecticut.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    the grass looks a bit iffy on Bill’s side of the marker. wonder why that is

    • Judas Peckerwood

      Nitrogen burn?

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Yeah, all the extra urea will do that.

        I mean, you’re driving through CT and need to stop to take a wizz, what better place.

        “Have a great day, Bill”

      • blowback

        Nah, he was a Bringer.

        It was the rotting putrescent corpse of one of the worst human beings to ever foul the land of this fine nation, William F. Buckley.

        Did he drag the United States into wars that killed millions? Ok, so he was a racist, but just about everybody is to one degree or another. He wasn’t a slave owner, although he might have been if it had been still legal. Did he exterminate whole nations? So, as Americans go, he wasn’t so evil.

    • DocAmazing
  • Posterity will ne’er survey
    A nobler grave than this:
    Here lie the bones of Bill Buckley.

    • rea

      Castlereagh’s politics had a lot in common with Buckley’s, although at least Castlereagh had the excuse of insanity.

  • Judas Peckerwood

    He had such a classy accent and used such big words, so he must have been right.

  • If you seriously thought that there was some quantum of education and civilization that was required of each and every voter before they could excercise the franchise then you should, logically, be for a massive infusion of money into education and the arts for everyone, without regard to their “locality.” Since they are voters they should be the best voters possible. And your argument assumes there is some specific thing, quantifiable, that they can learn to become those voters. Buckley’s argument should have been an argument against state’s rights and local control over education.

    • Vance Maverick

      I don’t think conservatives believe that the class of educated / civilized people can be expanded by direct effort or policy. The elect are who they are, with possible exceptions for bootstraps.

    • Hogan

      “Black people in the South aren’t educated enough to vote.”

      “So let’s make sure they get educated.”

      ” . . . Nah.”

      • Manju

        Believe it or not…but in his “apology” (which occurs around the mid-2000’s) he addresses this directly. IIRC, it goes something like this:

        1. He says he thought we would evolve out of the need for segregation. Presumably he means by this that Blacks become educated and whites no longer need to rule them.

        2. In a Separate “apology”, he appears to contradict the above, and says he was actually motivated by constitutional formalism…Rehnquist convinced him that the 1964 bill was unconstitutional. (But he simultaneously says he supported other versions of the bill, which sounds like BS)

        3. In apology #2, he then address the gist of #1, and says, along with regretting his opposition to the 1964 CRA, he also regrets his position on education. Presumably, he is doing what Aimai says he should’ve done above.

        But then he elaborates with specifics, and I shit you not:

        He says regrets not pushing for less government-finacnced education.

        I will link you up with the exact quotes later.

      • Manju

        Here’s #2 and #3…direct quotes in context…emphasis mine:

        MS. WOODRUFF: Do you have any major regrets along the way about positions that you espoused or people you championed?

        MR. BUCKLEY: I think we made a mistake in 1962 in opposing the Civil Rights Act. There were two or three acts that—The one that was opposed by Goldwater, who in the matter, by the way, was constitutionally advised by a man who 10 years later was Chief Justice of the United States.

        MS. WOODRUFF: William Rehnquist.

        MR. BUCKLEY: On the Civil Rights bill. And we were persuaded that was correct. I regret it. I think that the impact of that bill should have been welcomed by us. And that sort of transcended what would have become a constitutional formalism.

        I’m also sad that there wasn’t as much of an evolution in libertarian policies as I’d have liked to have seen. It’s simply accepted by everyone, including workaday conservatives, that education and health are substantially statist enterprises. I regret this. I think it was a surrender in principle and an abandonment of ideas that might have profited the republic hugely.

        http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/20060401_william_f_buckley_bush_will_be_judged_on_failed_iraq_war

        • Hogan

          who in the matter, by the way, was constitutionally advised by a man who 10 years later was Chief Justice of the United States.

          Oh for the love of . . . tell us about your respect for the judgment of Earl Warren, you anal-retentive douchebag.

          • Manju

            The Rehnquist thing is just the old “States Rights” ruse. That’s not why he opposed the CRAs. He told us why:

            The NAACP and others insist that the Negroes as a unit want integrated schools…

            The central question that emerges…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.

            Having re-read the Woodruff interview now, I would no longer say he addresses the education argument directly. He leaves wiggle room. Apologist could claim that he’s simply talking about 2 separate regrets: education policy and civil rights.

            But its very telling that his mind went there at that very moment. It’s as if he knew that his stated arguments at the time should logically lead him to the position Aimai lays out.

    • Warren Terra

      You fail to understand his fundamental generosity towards the education of the Black community: by making sure that Schoolteacher (and in segregated schools!) was just about the best job an educated Black person could hope to aspire to, he was ensuring the best possible supply of the most talented teachers for the Black community!

      (All snark aside: I don’t think our society has ever properly dealt with what the successes of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements meant for our schools – back when Schoolteacher really was about the best job a Black man or a woman could hope to have, we were oppressing those categories of people, but got a lot of really great teachers as a side benefit. Since then teaching has become a much lower-status profession, or rather has remained a fairly low-status profession while people once consigned to it went elsewhere.)

  • MacK

    I remember the first time I heard Buckley – and thought he was a caricature, a sort of poseur pretending to be a British aristocrat, affecting a drawl – but a voice that was not remotely what he though it was. It was not upper class British (which apparently he was trying for) or anything else. In many respects it was what I had called a Foxrock accent, a sort of pseudo posh accent adopted in certain southern suburbs of my native city (and now ruthlessly mocked at least in Ireland by a satirical column whose principle character is a Rugby bore called Ross O’Carroll-Kelly.) In short I always perceived Buckley as a fraud, and that was before I heard what he had to say.

    The thing is, the pose worked for Buckley. People perceived him as an intellectual, as a person who thought deeply, but he was a ****ing right wing dilettante, a shallow man, with shallow thoughts, who achieved far too much influence because people though he was a deep thinker.

    • Sly

      My favorite part of his “debate” with James Baldwin at the Oxford Union is when he accused Baldwin of assuming an affected accent to impress the audience, and the entire audience scoffed at him.

    • Hey now. My man Sam Beckett had a Foxrock accent.

      • Vance Maverick

        Surely someone can explain why SB was more authentically white.

        More seriously, Buckley may have been bogus in many ways, but that wasn’t what was objectionable about him. (I’m remembering that in some pieces on Wagner, the worst Samuel Lipman had to say about him was that he was a “charlatan”, which also seems like a bit of misdirection.)

        • EliHawk

          Sam Beckett started out as authentically white, but it turned out he could be authentically black, authentically hispanic, authentically asian and authentically a woman, depending on who he Leaped into next.

      • MacK

        No Beckett did not – at least not that Foxrock accent – his accent was solidly Dublin/Trinity College south side middle class from the 20s and 30s, listen:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N99S8n2TiA

        Genuine – upper middle class poseur Foxrock was a phenomenon of the 70s and 80s long after Beckett had left (and was a mostly UCD accent if anything (yes the universities have different accents.) Before then it was just a stop on the Harcourt Street line. It only started to become seriously upmarket when the public transport link closed in 1958 and plebeian characters found it harder to visit.

        Funnily enough my father met Beckett several times in the early 60s when an impoverished graduate student (along with my mother) at the Sorbonne and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, both teaching at the Lycée Condorcet. Inter alia, that was grim – but not as grim as the time when as an undergrad the Jam Factory closed for a strike and the only food he and his roommates had was a sack of Spanish onions.

        • Lee Rudolph

          the only food he and his roommates had was a sack of Spanish onions.

          Surely valuable for barter, though?

          • Warren Terra

            And a valued fashion accessory! (though the yellow Spanish ones apparently less so)

          • MacK

            In a town full of striking workers and temporary seasonal workers…..On of his roommates married my aunt (mother’s sister) – the description of those summers earning money for college was rather astonishing – car factories, jam factories, etc.

    • sharonT

      Larchmont Lockjaw was the description in our house

      I think we picked up the term from “Mame”

      • Karen24

        The Preppy Handbook called that accent Locust Valley Lockjaw, and listed Buckley and Gloria Upson from “Auntie Mame” as the most notable examples.

    • Julia Grey

      I thought he was exaggerating a New England/Main Line drawl. All longeur and Bahston Brahmin. Think of the careless hauteur the family in “The Philadelphia Story” put on in front of the journalists.

      He was too morally and intellectually superior to bother with “R”s.

  • MacK

    I am planning a collection of small pissoir which I plan to keep in a warehouse somewhere – for erection on suitable graves (with replacements for when someone removes them.) I recently passed an unusually smelly and ugly one at a taxi rank in Bologna which I want to acquire for the grave of Dick Cheney, but I have yet to see something suitable vile to erect at Buckleys.

    • Karen24

      I realized you meant “passed” to mean “walked by,” but it took me a minute.

      • MacK

        I’d love to be able to say that was a deliberate double entendre, but….

  • kayden

    Vanity Fair had a fawning article about Buckley a few years ago. I could only stomach the first few paragraphs. I refuse to read anything complimentary about bigoted people which means that I don’t bother myself with any pro-Reagan, Thatcher or Buckley material.

    Those people are odious. So glad that Nelson Mandela outlived them all and received such a lavish funeral. And died peacefully in his right mind.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Thanks for this. I get intensely annoyed with contemporary efforts to make Buckley seem like some sort of “reasonable” conservative. There was nothing reasonable about him. His political viewpoint wan half a step up from fascism.

    • Bruce Vail

      Am I the only one who remembers that National Lampoon parody ‘National Socialist Review’?

      https://archive.org/stream/NationalLampoon1978_02/1978_02#page/n48/mode/1up

      • Bitter Scribe

        No, you’re definitely not. Thanks for the Memory Lane trip. That parody was spot on, perfectly capturing NR’s sophistry, casual approach to facts, and barely concealed racism.

        IIRC, that parody was mostly written by Sean Kelly, who was one of the NatLamp’s most talented staffers (and who, BTW, loathed P.J. O’Rourke–all the more reason to like him).

  • Phil Perspective

    William F. Buckley is buried in the St. Bernard Cemetery in Sharon, Connecticut.

    Did you go pee on Henry Kissinger’s front lawn? He used to live up that way. Maybe he still does.

  • Bruce Vail

    Oh, I’ve been to Sharon, Conn. Seems like a nice place to live.

    I haven’t anything to say about Buckley. The sooner he is forgotten, the better.

    • A good friend of mine lives in Sharon.

      That is all.

      • Warren Terra

        This series is not about the living. Tonight of all nights we should recognize that.

        • The Day of the Dead is tomorrow.

  • Buckley himself had developed two arguments against civil rights, both of which were little more than disguised racism

    OK.

    “There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities. The problem is not biological, but cultural and educational.”

    Hmmm.

    “The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because for the time being, it is the advanced race.”

    The author is using a different definition of disguise than do.

    Also:

    Buckley’s argument displayed a willful ignorance …

    This use of willful ignorance and similar phrases must be buried in an unmarked grave. Buckley knew exactly what he was doing and he knew saying “Hey, let’s borrow our Southern Cousins’ playbook and make disenfranchisement a thing!” was a bit too strong for his readers.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      the reason they thought he was smart was he dressed their klan thoughts in brooks brothers suits

  • DrDick

    And he was what passed as the “thinking man’s conservative.” Needless to say, thought has never had much traction on the right.

  • Anna in PDX

    Anyone remember when he threatened to punch Noam Chomsky in the face for calling him a “crypto-fascist”?

    Eta damn, it was Gore Vidal who called him that. But he did threaten Noam.

    He was such an ass to so many people!

    • Warren Terra

      There’s a 2015 documentary about that, apparently coming to Netflix in a few weeks.

    • IIRC Buckley invited Chomsky onto his show and then complained that Chomsky was an “intellectual bully” for bringing facts into the argument.

  • majlufkin

    So interesting that himself is completely ignored by modern conservatives despit the fact that himself espoused exactly the same values and rhetoric that themselves parrot today.

  • FMguru

    That last quote (about Goldwater being unfairly criticized for simply making the eminently reasonable suggestion that we nuke the Viet Cong into submission) nicely shows that conservative whining about incivility and unfairness when their ideas aren’t treated with the utmost respect is as old as the hills.

  • bargal20

    It’s as if Loomis is putting pins in my map of “spots to take dumps on when next I travel”.

  • MD Rackham

    I have some blackberry vines that no amount of pruning and herbicide will keep from taking over my backyard, and I have to tackle them once again tomorrow.

    Perhaps low-yield tactical nukes are the answer.

    • The Dark Avenger

      If you can keep them unwatered, which might not be possible in your case, that would do the trick,

  • RPorrofatto

    Let’s not forget his enlightened views on homosexuals and AIDS:

    Everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.

  • bobbyp

    That his grave has gone unvandalized is a national disgrace.

    • Have kids today forgotten how to mix thermite?

      • Kids today are only interested in artisanal curated thermite.

  • steverinoCT

    My wife and I like to take long drives, and a loop up Rt. 44 through Sharon/Lakeville and down Rt. 7, coming back on Rt. 4, is a favorite.

    Here’s a series on walking Rt 44 and the stuff to do and see.

  • T.E. Shaw

    Thank you for this. I do enjoy stories about ghouls on Halloween. Maybe visit J Edgar Hoover’s grave next year?

  • mch

    I do not know why I like graveyards so much. That my mother took me to one in NJ (just her and me, none of those older siblings!) when I was little, to contemplate an ancient ancestor (whatever “ancient” meant to a maybe 5-year-old), or the fun I had visiting them with a six-pack of beer while in a NE music camp as a high school student. I like to think there’s a continuity between the two experiences….

    Which gets me to thinking. I really don’t want “to be buried” (ashes) at some site or other, but my children want me to be. They want to be able to “visit” me someWHERE. (Not just somewhere — the WHERE where they grew up. They imagine it unchanging, or allowed to be unchanging by my grave’s presence.) I get that, but having dealt with all this with MY parents (my father’s ashes are upstairs right now — I really do have to do something with them, lest my children are stuck with a “what’s this box?” crazy quandary when I die!), I am maybe a step ahead of them. Your parents truly remain with you, wherever their remains reside.

    All Hallows’ Eve thoughts….

    • Julia Grey

      We scattered Mother in the tidal marshland out in front of one of the bench seats facing out to the view of the Ravenel suspension bridge, along a lonnnng public dog park’s walking path out in the boonies (where she used to love to take her dog).

      We can “visit” her at the park any time, sit on the bench and contemplate “her” view.

      (We had to do it at low tide, of course, and my son had to wear wellies to tromp around in the pluff mud just “offshore” to scatter the ashes while we watched. And we weren’t exactly all reverent and quiet like people should be in such circumstances. We kept giving him advice and bickering under our breaths about side issues and whether we should set off the fireworks and which ones and….well, it was not like other people do it in the movies. But I think she probably dug it, if she was there.)

  • Was this awful smell a mine

    Great mines stink alike.
    I’ll go now.

  • billcoop4

    If a some-time older professorial-type friend of mine is to believed, WFB was also quite open to man-sex, given that he made a pass at my friend back in the late 50s.

  • Rick_B

    Several years ago I was surprised to learn that Bill Buckley had worked for a few years for the CIA in Mexico City in the early 50’s after his graduation from Yale. I have never learned why he left. Was he too right-wing for the CIA?

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