Wednesday, December 28, 2011

National Review Apologizes to Ayn Rand (Remains Haunted by Libertarianism)

When people ask me “Who is Gary Johnson?” – alas – they usually don’t mean it as an Ayn Rand homage.  They just want to know who he is.  Nonetheless, I’m excited that in a few minutes he’ll live-stream his announcement of his plan to abandon his Republican run for president to run on the Libertarian Party ticket.

If the Republicans aren’t smart enough to nominate Ron Paul, libertarians will be more pissed off than usual, and it appears we’ll have a better alternative than usual.

And remember, as C-SPAN is reminding us in a series all this week, even losing presidential candidates can do a great deal to reshape political dialogue (tonight at 10pm, it’s the Barry Goldwater story).

On Christmas, though, C-SPAN aired a November 4 panel at Yale of conservatives who’d worked with William F. Buckley, asking what he might have thought of the current state of conservatism – and the specter of libertarianism loomed large during that discussion, too, I was pleased to see.  (Not that NR isn’t eclectic: moderator Linda Bridges noted colleague John Roche objecting to being called a “Disraeli Tory” and insisting he was in fact a “Catholic syndicalist.”)

•Panelist Rich Lowry, disappointingly, took pains to say he didn’t mean to imply by any libertarian-friendly comments he made that Buckley would support Rand Paul.  

•William Kristol went farther, in his weasely way, and suggested that Buckley (who only died three years ago, keep in mind) might not have been as libertarian had he come of age today, since in Kristol’s opinion people were more complacent about big, progressive government in the mid-twentieth century but now, presumably, are fully aware of the problem and thus in no urgent need of such a philosophy.

•Bridges said she thinks Buckley’s awareness of the necessity for “ordered liberty” “inoculated” Buckley against any non-Burkean form of libertarianism.

•Neal Freeman admitted National Review had no clear definition of conservatism when the magazine was young and that they were “making it up” as they went along – but he added that he or someone else of a non-doctrinaire bent responded to the seemingly absurd first talk at NR by fusionist Frank Meyer (who wanted traditionalism and libertarianism explicitly united)
by saying with disbelief, “You mean, Frank, you’re gonna make the holy rollers lie down with the high rollers?”

Another comedic high note: Freeman also noted that when he was up for a federal appointment of some sort, the FBI interviewed Buckley about him and asked the usual sweeping final question: whether Freeman would be likely to do anything that would embarrass the administration.  Buckley’s response to the FBI was: “I should think that the reverse is much more likely.”  That’s awesome.

It was also noted that Buckley, perhaps more libertarian than the panel, condemned “the socialized state [which] is to justice, order, and freedom what the Marquis de Sade is to love.”  I hope the junior editors at NR these days (Lowry mentioned two Harvardians and a Yalie there now) quietly admire Buckley more than some of his more-statist successors. 

Not that NR was libertarian in the old days.  Indeed, Freeman seized the opportunity to apologize for being the “point man” for the magazine’s attacks on Ayn Rand back in the day.  Freeman, admitting that he only got around to reading the book last year, said of Atlas Shrugged: “I hereby apologize to Miss Rand; the book has some merit.”

He noted that Buckley, of course, found Rand’s atheism and, more, her absolutism off-putting, which is understandable.  Then again, he noted that Buckley’s decision to oust the Birchers from the movement cost the magazine about 10% of its subscribers.  There are a lot more libertarians than Birchers these days, and if the conservative movement is not on their side, they are increasingly aware they have other options.

No comments: