STERN: The Buckley fetish

We have a habit of canonizing the dead. Michael Jackson went from alleged pedophile to tragic god of pop music. Ted Kennedy went from heartless, manslaughter-committing politician to storied liberal lion. William F. Buckley is utterly idolized — across the country and particularly at Yale.

Yale students across the board respect and admire Buckley for his wit and intellect, if not for his conservative views. In 2008, the Yale Alumni Magazine called Buckley “a symbol of Yale.” In 2010, a group of Yale undergraduates founded the popular William F. Buckley Jr. Program, which, according to David Frum, “animates conservative discussion on the campus where it all began.”

Robert Massie, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a classmate of Buckley’s at Yale, wrote, “Buckley was the most prominent and visible member of our class, as I suppose he has been ever since. Everybody was aware of what he was doing and what he thought, and many of us admired him even though we didn’t agree with his views.”

Even in a place as ostensibly liberal as Yale, William F. Buckley is still admired by students as the conservative intellectual—anathema to many of today’s openly anti-intellectual conservatives.

Yet this unabashed admiration of Buckley bothers me. For while the man was undeniably intelligent, and while his writings heralded the beginning of modern conservatism, many of his views are totally abhorrent — and totally overlooked at Yale.

William F. Buckley gave a speech in his senior year saying that Yale needed to be promoting “active Christianity.” Later, after graduating, he wrote “God and Man at Yale,” which charged, among other things, that Yale should return to its Christian heritage. While I have complete and total respect for Buckley’s personal religious convictions, I find the idea that Yale should only promote one religious point of view appalling.

Buckley wrote dozens more books, including one openly defending Senator Joseph McCarthy. This does not feel like modern, intelligent conservatism.

Nor does Buckley’s expressed desire to brand every single person infected with AIDS. (He wrote in The New York Times that everyone with AIDS should be tattooed on “the upper forearm” and on “the buttocks.”) Nor does when Buckley called Gore Vidal a “queer,” an “evangelist for bisexuality” and an “addict” of homosexuality.

I also don’t see how Yale students so respect Buckley when he apparently did not respect them. Buckley, leading fellow alumni of Skull and Bones in obtaining a court order, alleged that admitting women into Skull and Bones would end in “date rape.” This was in 1991! (Skull and Bones would later allow women, against Buckley’s strenuous objections.) That is how he views the moral character of a Yale student organization of which he was an alumnus?

But the coup de grace is Buckley’s views on integration. Though he would later qualify his views, Buckley wrote an editorial in 1957 titled “Why the South Must Prevail.” Buckley endorsed white supremacy and wrote, “The question is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where 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.”

Are these the views Yale students want from the man universally called the father of modern conservatism? No! So many of us forget his true convictions, instead dwelling on his sheer intelligence, candor and fiery convictions. But the man who influenced Goldwater and Reagan, who founded The National Review and who wrote prolifically and influentially on conservatism held these views.

I am not attacking conservatism at Yale, just outdated and abhorrent views that are too often glossed over in the conservative movement’s zeal to find an intellectual icon. To Yale conservatives, I say, find a better icon! As C.J. Cregg said on the ever-quotable show “The West Wing,” “Liberals are coy about our mistakes. You won’t catch us naming anything after, well, pretty much anybody.” But conservatives are content with Buckley?

Columnist David Brooks wrote on the William F. Buckley Jr. Program’s website, “I was lucky enough to know and benefit from William F. Buckley’s wisdom and presence when I was young. That blessing is no longer available, but the Yale community can still hear from people who were influenced by his views. How could that not be a wonderful thing?”

Yes, how could it not be a wonderful thing that Yale students can hear from those influenced by Buckley’s “views”? Wanting Yale to actively promote Christianity? Supporting McCarthyism? Forcing everyone with AIDS to be tattooed? Calling homosexuality an addiction? Opposing women in certain Yale clubs? Claiming that whites were, at the time, the “advanced race”?

How … wonderful?

Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *I also don’t see how Yale students so respect Buckley when he apparently did not respect them.*

    Homosexuals were not considered “human” by Buckley’s generation, and, unfortunately, by some of the officials in his religion, irony of irony since many of them would be subsequently accused of child molestation .

    Homosexual sexual relations between consenting adults were ILLEGAL until 1975.

    What an insanely bigoted world Americans emerged from, like creatures from the primordial slime and ooze of religious intolerance and cultural ignorance.

    Ugh.

  • RexMottram08

    WFB Jr. was a great American and one of the greatest Yale men ever.

    I read God and Man at Yale as a freshman and re-read it last year as I started at the grad school. I still agree 100% with him.

    After my sophomore year, I subscribed to the National Review and loaded up my bookshelf with his classics (his fiction is vastly underrated).

    Thanks to the Hoover Institute we have episodes of Firing Line available on DVD. They are a shining example of what TV journalism was once able to accomplish.

    Buckley stood for free markets and free people. I stand with him in perpetuity!

  • bfa123

    RexMottramo08, how can you say he stood for “free people” when there is a quote given above in which he says, “The question is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where 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.” I don’t get it…

  • RexMottram08

    bfa123,

    You have neither read, nor understood the arguments Buckley made regarding the South.

    You do realize that Buckley’s conservatives were the opponents of Jim Crow, right?

  • River_Tam

    > Buckley wrote dozens more books, including one openly defending Senator Joseph McCarthy. This does not feel like modern, intelligent conservatism.

    What is wrong with Joseph McCarthy?

    M. Stanton Evans, a former editor of the *Yale Daily News* wrote the fascinating “Blacklisted from History” presenting McCarthy as a hero bravely fighting communism and the very real threat of Soviet spies within the US government.

    Historian John Earl Haynes concludes based on the new evidence from the Venona project (which identifies almost 350 Soviet spies within the US)- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venona_project – that “a number of those on [McCarthy's lists], perhaps a majority, likely were security risks”

    But don’t let facts get in the way of good demagoguery. Carry on.

  • River_Tam

    A final note – demonizing the past is a favored tactic of “Progressives”, because it lets them say “Everything before us sucked, let’s tear down society and make it better.”

    To reference the Chestertonian metaphor, progressives casually mention that the fence-builder was a racist in order to convince people to tear down the fence.

  • RexMottram08

    River_Tam,

    They always forget about me.

    Sincerely,
    Alger Hiss

  • The Anti-Yale

    Watch and listen for youselves, River Tam and Rex:

  • bfa123

    Are you all out of your mind? Defending McCarthyism? Thousands upon thousands of innocent individuals were “purged” from employment by xenophobic, reactionary imbeciles!

    RexMottrano08, regardless of how Buckley would later pretend to change his mind, he said whites should be in a superior position over blacks because whites were “the advanced race.” This is not up for debate.

    And River_Tam, haven’t we had this conversation, my dear? It’s really sad that, even though you’re not a student, you still feel the need to comment on behalf of victimized conservatives. I’ve responded to your position (see above). Now, please, find something better to do. You make current Yale students worry that we too shall not be able to move on with our lives after college.

  • MapleLeaf14

    Totally agreed! Awesome column, Mr. Stern. To angered neo-cons: doesn’t it suck when your icons are exposed for what they really are?
    Oh, and River_Tam, get a life.

  • RexMottram08

    @bfa123,

    Your historical memory of McCarthyism is terribly confused. If you want real purges, look over at Uncle Joe’s USSR.

    The incomplete “advanced race” quotation exposes the original author and the posters above as simply Wikipedia trolls. Buckley continues: “If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. 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.”

    WFB Jr. rejected Jim Crow repeatedly, but also stood against Big Government’s attempt to engineer racial harmony. The heavy handed, Federal approach to civil rights was NOT the only option. Real damage was done between the white and black Southern communities that can’t be tied to racism. But it can be tied to race wars that federal interventionists caused.

  • RexMottram08

    @MapleLeaf,

    Do you have any idea what a Neo-Con is? Or do you just toss around little phrases you pick up The Nation?

  • River_Tam

    I would like to point out that HUAC (H stands for *House* of Representatives) and Senator Joe McCarthy (Senator stands for “someone in the Senate, which is not the House of Representatives”) are completely distinct despite the efforts of liberals to conflate the pair.

    McCarthy was interested in Soviet spies in the government and didn’t show the slightest interest in the political leanings of actors.

  • bfa123

    RexMottram08, what does the continuation of the quote prove? That if the majority is, in Buckley’s eyes, unintelligent, “thwart[ing]” them is ok because whites know best? Who gets to make that decision, explicitly “undemocratic”?

    And yes, the federal approach to Civil Rights was the right solution. If we’d have let the Southern states determine their own paths to desegregation, it never would have happened.

    I think it’s obvious that MapleLeaf14 just misspoke; meant to say conservative, not neo-con.

    None of you have dwelt on the other points of Mr. Stern’s piece: that Buckley thought women didn’t deserve to be in Skull/Bones and that male Yalies couldn’t be trusted; that Buckley was a homophobe; that Buckley wanted Yale to try to convert non-Christians; and that he wanted to tattoo all with AIDS (whom he automatically assumed were gay or drug-users). These positions are awful!!!

  • grumpyalum

    @Rex – The heavy handed guise of the federal government? So what was the federal government suppose to do – politely ask the South to integrate?

    Yeah. You can argue parts of the Great Society were ineffective and heavy handed. Buckley may have opposed Jim Crow, but he certainly supported white supremacy. He simply saw that the federal government was the only one that could break Jim Crow, and gosh, he hated the federal government.

  • RexMottram08

    You can live in your fantasy about the Feds riding in with MLK Jr and whisking the South into a state of racial harmony. But if you’ve lived in the South, as I have, you would understand the racial resentment that this Federal intervention caused. Look at every opinion poll of the era: racial attitudes were improving without government force. If it is a conservative opinion that the government cannot and should not attempt to regulate interior attitudes (racism, sexism, etc.), then color me a conservative 100%! I stand against government attempts to coerce private behavior and association.

    On other points:
    1) WFB Jr’s stance against women in Skull & Bones: he was a member, it is a private society and they do not have to admit anyone they do not wish! He employed many women at National Review and Firing Line, loved his wife dearly and was the mentor to dozens of female undergraduates at Yale.

    2) WFB Jr was NOT a homophobe, but he did not support the absurdity of “gay marriage” or support a HIV infested, promiscuous, immature sub-culture known as the “gay community.” You may disagree with his views but they’re not “homophobic”

    3) WFB Jr recognized that Yale, the university system and Western civilization grew out of Christendom and that Yale’s abandonment of traditional Christianity led to the embrace of a bunch of modern nonsense. God and Man at Yale did NOT call for the removal of non-Christian classes or chaplains. It simply defended the legitimate place of Christianity.

  • RexMottram08

    @grumpy,

    Parts of the Great Society were ineffective?!?!?!

    It was a complete DISASTER!

    Black marriages, child legitimacy, employment, wages, education: all much worse!

  • MapleLeaf14

    1) Just because it is a private organization, that does not mean he can be discriminatory and we all have to be ok with that. And he impugned Yale male students, saying that letting women in would lead to date rape!
    2) He was a homophobe: calling someone a “queer” and saying homosexuality was an “addiction.”
    3) And God and Man at Yale DID call for Yale to return to its “Christian origins,” which were pretty extreme.

    Buckley should neither be deified nor vilified; merely recognized for the White Supremacist, homophobic, selective sexist that he was.

    And I still can’t get over people dissing the Civil Rights Act. You’re an idiot! Yeah, the South was a great place to live during “separate but equal” times. Evidence: public approval polls said so. Gee, you’d make a great political pundit. And I’m sure that those polls–if they exist–were fairly taken.

    The fact of the matter is that, without federal intervention, the South would still be segregated, and the ideas of people like Buckley might still be in place with regard to gays, blacks, women, and those with AIDS.

  • MapleLeaf14

    Oh, and RexMottram08, saying things like “the absurdity of ‘gay marriage’ or support a HIV infested, promiscuous, immature sub-culture known as the “gay community.'” is pretty damn homophobic, too.

  • River_Tam

    > Oh, and RexMottram08, saying things like “the absurdity of ‘gay marriage’ or support a HIV infested, promiscuous, immature sub-culture known as the “gay community.'” is pretty damn homophobic, too.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/23/AR2010092306828.html

    In the US, 1 in 5 men who have sex with men (MSM) has HIV. Over 70% of male HIV cases in the US are from MSM individuals, and the rest are categorized as needle usage (and some of which is a cover for under-reported MSM)

    That’s an epidemic, and one that is often swept under the rug in the name of political correctness.

    You can’t solve a problem until you take it seriously.

  • River_Tam

    > And he impugned Yale male students, saying that letting women in would lead to date rape!

    Yup, you should let the Yale Women’s Center know that date rape isn’t a problem at Yale.

  • silliwin01

    Can’t wait for Zelinsky to respond to this.

  • grumpyalum

    @Rex – The government can and must act when the civil rights of a vast group of people are being denied. When they are denied the right to vote and organize and when DOGS are sent after children, the revisionist tale of evil federal intervention falls on deaf ears.

    What you are basically saying is that “dem’ black folks and yankees needed to shut up. We’ll stop being mean to blacks on our own time.”

    Screw you and your privilege.

    @River Tam – And the response is to provide a comprehensive sex education, along with support services. Don’t give me this little pedantic tripe about caring about homosexuals – none of your political heroes give a damn about them. There are problems in the gay community, but your political allies ranting about the evils of homosexuality certainly isn’t going to fix that issue.

  • MapleLeaf14

    River_Tam, no one is saying that date rape isn’t a problem at Yale. We are just saying that when Buckley said allowing women into Yale clubs would lead to date rape is like saying allowing women into Yale will lead to date rape. It’s sexism masked by patronizing concern.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *I would like to point out that HUAC (H stands for House of Representatives) and Senator Joe McCarthy (Senator stands for “someone in the Senate, which is not the House of Representatives”) are completely distinct*

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    HUAC hearing
    The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) or House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)[1] (1938–1975) was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, the House changed the committee’s name to “House Committee on Internal Security”. When the House abolished the committee in 1975,[2] its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.
    The committee’s anti-Communist investigations are often confused with those of Senator Joseph McCarthy.[3] McCarthy, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct involvement with this House committee.[4] McCarthy was the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. Senate, not the House.

  • SY

    Buckley missed the better approach to Southern segregation, but the article misses some history. 1. In 1950, God and Man at Yale was about God/Christianity as the antidote to godless collectivism/communism, the alternative religion of the day. With the end of the Soviet Union, the idea that religious faith is important to liberty seems dated. We’ll see what happens in post-Christian Europe over the next months and years. 2. In the 1980’s, AIDS was a two-year death sentence, and its trasmission was unclear (sweat or silivia?). AIDS seemed more like murder than a chronic disease, though still uncurable. 3. Skull and Bones was a male drinking club with a private NY island retreat for alums (without spouses). Women members changed it. He should have said that rather than date rape.

    Generally, he was a kindly elitist who loved God, country and Yale. Out of his several thousand articles and shows, he got some things wrong. At least say he got the Panama Canal Treaty right.

  • MapleLeaf14

    I agree, SY, but don’t you think those are rather big things to get wrong?

  • roflairplane

    And why would it be a bad idea to convert people to Christianity?

  • River_Tam

    > There are problems in the gay community, but your political allies ranting about the evils of homosexuality certainly isn’t going to fix that issue.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever voted for a candidate who ranted about the evils of homosexuality, nor have I claimed it is evil, morally wrong, or otherwise not something I fully support. But again – when you can’t attack the argument, you start imagining slights against your person.

  • River_Tam

    > We are just saying that when Buckley said allowing women into Yale clubs would lead to date rape is like saying allowing women into Yale will lead to date rape.

    Are you claiming that all the current single-gendered “secret societies” at Yale are sexist? Or do only the old “prestigious” ones have an obligation to be open to both genders?

  • MapleLeaf14

    River_Tam: I’m not claiming anything of the sort. (Though, I’m curious, what single-gendered secret societies still exist here?) What I am saying–and what you seem incapable of understanding–is that it is denigrating men at Yale to say that, if they let a woman into their midst, they will automatically date rape her.

  • mrosenba

    A few facts from someone who was a Buckley protege in the 1980s:
    On homosexuality: When asked to comment on the postulation that 1 of every ten people is gay, he said “if that is true then I’ve met every one of them.” Fact is Bill was not homophobic at all. His wife had a collection of male friends, a very large number of which were gay. Bill thought homosexuality a condition that could be reversed, but never in my experience acted censoriously toward someone who was obviously gay, nor sit in judgment of them. He had an enormous group of very diverse friends, and being gay was just not a filter against becoming one of them. Yes he called Gore Vidal a name, but Gore Vidal is an utterly odious individual who deserves to be called far worse things than ‘queer’

    On McCarthyism: McCarthy was of course correct about communist infiltration, he just went after some of the wrong people. Go on the Hillsdale College website. For free you can read every single column and article Bill wrote. See how his position changed on Senator McCarthy personally, and see how correct he was about, for example, Alger Hiss being a spy.

    On Civil Rights and Equality: Ditto. Buckley went on a tour of the inner city ghettos in the late 1960s and was the journalist accorded the most respect (as reported at the time) because he challenged, listened and in many ways let the experience shape his subsequent views, which were firmly on the side of equality, but without the condescension that liberals of the era, e.g. Leonard Bernstein, so openly displayed. Dredging up ancient quotes is not reflective of the full journey of someone’s life. Bill traveled long and well and became close to a saint. RIP

    On Secret Societies: Ssssssshhhhhhhh, for Chrissakes!

  • MapleLeaf14

    That isn’t ok: homosexuality isn’t something that can be cured. McCarthy was horrible, and never produced the “list” of communists in the government. And Mr. Stern never said Buckley was a segregationist; just that he was a white supremacist.

  • Reddit
  • River_Tam

    > Though, I’m curious, what single-gendered secret societies still exist here?

    According to a recently published list – Ceres Athena, Red Mask, Boar, W&C, WIPS, DSG, T&C.

    > I’m not claiming anything of the sort.

    Yes, you claimed “Just because it is a private organization, that does not mean he can be discriminatory and we all have to be ok with that.”. I’m pointing out that there are still many single-gendered secret societies, and that you are not “ok with that”.

  • MapleLeaf14

    That’s interesting…but River_Tam, you, as always, have missed the point. The members of Skull and bones voted to let women in, and Buckley literally had the locks changed on their building. This shows who and what he was. And, again, he denigrated men at Yale to say that, if they let a woman into their midst, they will automatically date rape her. How don’t you get that? Or do you think that was the case, as well?

    (Oh, and, as always, get a life. You need to move on. You’re not a student here anymore.)

  • RexMottram08

    @grumpyalum,

    The historical record is there. The federal gov’t jumped in front of a marching band (lowering attitudes of racism, and decreasing acts of discrimination in the South), claimed to be the conductor, and then took the entire parade down a violent alley.

    Pre-CRA Southern Blacks earned MORE, had more stable families and marriages, had LESS unemployment.

  • MapleLeaf14

    RexMottram08, are you out of your freakin’ mind? If the federal government had let the south go at its own rate, there would still be INSTITUTIONALIZED racism in the south!

  • RexMottram08

    @MapleLeaf14,

    You may be surprised to learn that it was government which created this problem. Many, if not most, municipal transit systems were privately owned in the 19th century and the private owners of these systems had no incentive to segregate the races.

    These owners may have been racists themselves but they were in business to make a profit — and you don’t make a profit by alienating a lot of your customers. There was not enough market demand for Jim Crow seating on municipal transit to bring it about.

    Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws after they were upheld by the courts.

  • PhysicsAlum

    Yeeeessshh…

  • MapleLeaf14

    No, Rex, I am not surprised to “learn” that. But you haven’t shown how the government “created the problem.” I defy you to claim that the federal gov’t created the problem. And if you say–correctly–that state and local governments did, then it was absolutely the right thing to do for the federal government to intervene.

  • Robbie

    You know what’s fun? Combo Breaker of Kindness.

    River_Tam, I made this for you. It took an awkwardly long time, so you better look. And if you’re inexplicably a fan of this sort of thing, well, that’s just awesome.

    P.S. – I don’t care that we have diametrically opposed political views, or that you’re probably not a character from Firefly in real life. Please keep raging at everything. It makes me rofl. And everyone likes to rofl.

    http://i1141.photobucket.com/albums/n595/Robbie_the_ambiguous/lolololol.jpg

  • grumpyalum

    http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgbham.htm

    I’m sorry. Anybody believing the South would have ‘willingly’ taken down Jim Crow allowed full political participating of its African American population is deluding themselves.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    Historical counterfactuals are really, really silly and intellectually un-rigorous, especially in this case. Moreover, whether or not Buckley advocated what would have been a “better” or the “best” policy on desegregation does not say much about his racism or lack thereof.

    If he advocated it because he genuinely thought segregation was an evil, that blacks were the intellectual and moral equals of whites and should therefore be their social and political equals, and that non-intervention was the best way to achieve this equality, then he was not a racist (whether or not he was right about the policy question you’re now attempting retrospectively to answer). If he advocated gradualism because he really didn’t *want* to see the end of segregation, he was probably a racist.

  • mrosenba

    Tell you one thing: WFB is delighted up in heaven that he can still provoke such controversy. Remember that he styled himself as a Controversialist, which is what he did for a living. In private he rarely discussed politics other than to tell a funny story about someone and roll his eyes. As he put it in more than one of his books, which I wish some of you on this site would actually read, when people wanted him to speak on a campus or an event he charged for it (Yale being an exception) on the grounds that people wanted theater and for theatrical performances he charged money. RIP WFB Jr.