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Buckley for Mayor

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How is it that a Yale-educated Yankee aristocrat whose first language was Spanish earned the votes of half the Irish and Italian Catholics of the NYPD for Mayor in 1965? How is it that this same man, bereft of security, carried the same preachment into a room full of agitated black New Yorkers, and came out knowing, “they gave him their respect, if not their votes”?

How is it that renegade Conservatism was presented to New York City in 1965 and earned 15% of the available votes of that great city, at the very height of Liberalism’s prestige?

These questions, along with some of the greatest questions ever posed, are ably posed, assayed, examined, related and undertaken, but never fully answered, in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s supreme literary work, The Unmaking of a Mayor, now brought out for a 50th anniversary edition by Encounter Books.

It is difficult overestimate the greatness of this book. But it is easy to overestimate its readability; those who undertake to plumb its depths should gird themselves for a rigorous instruction.

The new Foreword by Neal B. Freeman fleshes this discrepancy out, at least a little bit: Buckley lost his right-hand man, the aforementioned Freeman, campaign chief of staff, who declined Buckley’s offer to co-write the book, which we know now as The Unmaking of a Mayor.

This was to be WFB’s fabled Big Book, his contribution to Political Philosophy, should he have managed to induce Freeman to discipline WFB’s old rascal mind; but the book never got the discipline. So we’re left with a Buckley mash-up of monumental significance.

Part of the vital challenge is the detective work necessary to tease out what’s monumental and what’s trivia.

The fact that a reasonable portion of the platform of Buckley for Mayor, circa 1965, was implemented by Rudy Giuliani, circa 1994-2001, and Michael Bloomberg, circa 2001-2013, may suggest where the detective work should begin.

Nor should the story of Reagan’s realignment victory be told without reference to, fifteen years before, the quixotic campaign of Buckley for Mayor. Both men espoused the same principles.

Fifty years ago a great American Conservative made the case, in a hostile environment, for the superiority of his creed to that of the regnant spirit of the age. He did it with physical courage, patriotism, humor, and warmth.

I wish I could have voted Buckley for Mayor.

Comments (23)

Bill Buckley's father's antecedents were Irish immigrant, which passed through Canada and then to Texas and Mexico. His mother's roots were deeply set in Catholic Louisiana. It would be difficult to describe that mixture as Yankee, although the influence of growing up in Sharon Ct was marked, but he also spent some growing up time in South Carolina. Not to mention schooling in England and France.

Fair enough, Mr. Brennick.

I was a teenager when it was published. I demanded that our school library and our local public library get the book. I had just learned that you could force the libraries hand and get them to do an interlibrary loan for you, if they did not have what you wanted. I had also learned that my father would back me up in making such a demand.

I remember reading The Unmaking of a Mayor when it came out. I agree that Giuliani seemed to be looking at the Buckley's playbook.

Conservatives have a real blind spot regarding Buckley, the same as they do regarding Barry Goldwater (who proposed legalizing abortion and supported gay rights long before anyone ever spoke about it) and Ronald Reagan (who brought forth the very first amnesty). Buckley also established the whole "those to my right are my enemies and those to my left are just the opposition" mentality that pervades conservatism today probably due to his incessant "purges" of various groups from the conservative movement including the paleoconservatives (which represent an authentic American right-wing) and the John Birch Society (who were militant anti-Communists who extended their focus beyond bolshevism and towards Cultural Marxism) while allowing groups like the Neoconservatives (who Chronicles columnist Srdja Trifkovic refers to as the "children of Trotsky"), the Libertarians and "South Park" Republicans to stream into the movement making the conservative movement (or what passes for it) the circus like spectacle that we see today. It's eerily similar to how the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated the SSPX but allowed (and still allows) the Kasperites to be within the Church fold.

Buckley was not much of a renegade (anymore than John McCain is a maverick) but a true insider. His movement was all about respectability (which is why his flagship magazine is now shilling for gay marriage which all right-thinking people know is respectable now) instead of results. The conservative movement effectively neutered the Right, preventing it's ability to counteract, suppress, and remove the Cultural Marxist Left from the American national body.

It could have all gone differently if it weren't for the death of General George Patton.

I do not doubt Buckley's literary merits, admirer as I am of his spy thrillers, but lapses into occasional salaciousness was surprising in a conservative author.

As for libertarian infiltration of conservatism, Russell Kirk warned a long ago, that the libertarians do not form a natural ally to conservatism.

It's eerily similar to how the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated the SSPX but allowed (and still allows) the Kasperites to be within the Church fold.

And THAT's an eerily accurate analogy. I have felt the truth of that analogy for years, but I have never actually said it. Why is it that the Church cannot even tolerate people who just hankered for saying the Mass of 1500 years' duration, but can't be bothered to get up a head of steam about clown masses, liturgical dance, and doing the tango in the sanctuary - no to mention outright heresy and sexual abominations in cardinals and bishops?

I've read Russell Kirk's book Redeeming the Time. I personally think that he's a bit overrated as well though he did say one thing that made everything clear for me: "conservatism is not an ideology but a temperament".

Conservatives can only prevent things from getting worse not make them better. It's time to look for a new way forward.

"And THAT's an eerily accurate analogy. I have felt the truth of that analogy for years, but I have never actually said it. Why is it that the Church cannot even tolerate people who just hankered for saying the Mass of 1500 years' duration, but can't be bothered to get up a head of steam about clown masses, liturgical dance, and doing the tango in the sanctuary - no to mention outright heresy and sexual abominations in cardinals and bishops?"

Because, and I didn't want to say it because I didn't want to be a complete iconoclast, the Church has been infiltrated to the very core by Cultural Marxists and headed (until Bertoglio) by mostly gutless conservative Popes who didn't have what it took to clean out the Church. It's pretty obvious what's going on: the Church is blatantly adhering to the demands of the Cultural Marxist Left. That's why the SSPX gets the boot and Kasperites, the Lavender Mafia, and the St. Gallen Mafia get to stay.

The same thing goes for Buckley. He was no real enemy of the Left. He was a shill and nothing more than a cocktail party conservative. He had lots of elite liberal friends. He was more concerned with looking respectful in front of them instead of actually leading America towards national glory.

If you want to talk about aristocratic right-wing elites who actually did do something for the nation, look no further than Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh.

I don't know if providing the policy template for restoring New York City, from a cesspool of disorder and dependency, into a prosperous and orderly city with one of the world's best urban police forces, counts as doing "something for the nation" in the book of Ajax; it certainly does so in mine.

Another puzzle is how "temperament not ideology" guys can so quickly turn around and ding Buckley for being a friend to many liberals. I guess Buckley should have demonstrated his allergy to ideology by publicly repudiating his friends on ideological grounds. Sounds reasonable. Ironically, it is the neoconservatives who most prominently practiced the art of losing friends on ideological grounds. They wrote several books about it. One could even speculate that this readiness to pull plug on a friendship based on ideology or politics is precisely a Trotskyist view of human affairs; and that Buckley should be commended for abjuring it.

The "no enemies to the Right" principle, implicit in these allegations of Buckley's "purges," concretely applies another cultural tenet of Leftism to conservative politics and is likewise ill-suited to a critique that faults Buckley for applying Leftist tenets to conservative politics.

On the merits, Buckley's capacity for friendship across ideologies speaks to his basic humanity and suggests, at least, a real magnanimity arising from a Christian understanding of the virtue of charity.

Finally, it's anachronistic to conflate Buckley's approach to things in, say, the 1990s or later, with his approach in 1965 or earlier. What "respectability" he had in the late 50s through the 60s can be well estimated from reading the book in question here.

"On the merits, Buckley's capacity for friendship across ideologies speaks to his basic humanity and suggests, at least, a real magnanimity arising from a Christian understanding of the virtue of charity."

Yeah, friendship... Is that why he spit upon his friends like Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan as Scott Richert touches on this moving eulogy of Sobran?: https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/remembering-joe/

And I'm going to preempt any accusations of anti-Semitism regarding by saying this: Sobran was a critic of Israel regarding American foreign policy and due to pressure from the Neocons Buckley unceremoniously dumped him. That event obviously made him bitter.

Regardless, it made it obvious that Buckley chose his fellow cocktail partiers over life-long friends who could have caused him to lose status. This event out of many just goes to show that Buckley wasn't much of a friend. So that argument doesn't hold.

Secondly, what were his results? I mean, does America seem more conservative to you?

He didn't fare well on the personal front nor did he fare well in getting results.

He's not G.K. Chesterton who was famous with both being friends with Belloc and the atheistic socialist GB Shaw.

"I guess Buckley should have demonstrated his allergy to ideology by publicly repudiating his friends on ideological grounds. "

Yeah, and yet he publicly repudiated Pat Buchanan and Sobran for disagreeing with him on Israel. What were you saying about reason?

I knew the Sobran business would come up. It always does.

I'll confine myself only to saying that one can deplore Buckley's conduct in that controversy without establishing it as the pattern of his whole public life. In any case, it occurred twenty-five years after the events recounted in the book in question here.

"The "no enemies to the Right" principle, implicit in these allegations of Buckley's "purges," concretely applies another cultural tenet of Leftism to conservative politics and is likewise ill-suited to a critique that faults Buckley for applying Leftist tenets to conservative politics."

So..... Justify the purge of the paleocons and the John Birchers. And then justify filling up the conservative movement with neocons and, what the late great Sam Francis would refer to as, the "kiddiecons"? While NRO is full of half-wits and intellectual light-weights, Chronicles Magazine still has a coherent, intellectual, and more importantly, actually conservative set of writers.

Plus, that argument sounds like the whole "nativism is not conservative" or "Trump is actually a liberal" argument except in your case I should replace nativism with "winning". It's very simple. Do you want to move towards victory, defeat the Left, and move the nation forward? Simple question but conservatives love to hem-and-haw regarding a question like "do you want to win".

"Another puzzle is how "temperament not ideology" guys can so quickly turn around and ding Buckley for being a friend to many liberals. "

Well, probably because I feel that "temperament not ideology" actually damns movement conservatism. That temperament is why movement conservatism has lost every single battle in the cultural war.

"I knew the Sobran business would come up. It always does."

I'm glad you understand. I didn't know Sobran (wish I did), but that whole situation deeply angered me. Forgive me for not being able to warm up to Buckley, NRO, or movement conservatism due to that situation.

"I'll confine myself only to saying that one can deplore Buckley's conduct in that controversy without establishing it as the pattern of his whole public life. In any case, it occurred twenty-five years after the events recounted in the book in question here."

Yeah, I'll bet the book in question is good one. But like I said right above, can't respect Buckley after the Sobran incident. There are better intellectual rightists who were more uncompromising regarding both principles and friends.

But hey, that is my opinion. It's still probably a good book.

I would say Buckley isn't even half far right enough for my tastes. In comparison to other global figures, he's practically a liberal. Was it not Buckley who purged the National Review?

The idea that Buckley, when he ran for Mayor of NYC in 1965, was "practically a liberal," gives me a good chuckle.

Perhaps folks are unaware that he ran against both a Republican and a Democrat; that he was, in other words, opposed by the established hierarchies of both American political parties? And the anodyne verb "opposed" only very feebly conveys the depth of hostility his campaign engendered among American liberals.

Loath as I am to extrapolate from a few blog comments, I nevertheless cannot shake the feeling that all this rancor and second-hand grudge-mongering vindicates Buckley's editorial decisions. Sobran's book Single Issues is great, and his long essay from the late 80s, "Pensees" is superb; but is there some unwritten rule that Buckley can't run his magazine as he sees fit? Fine writers get fired for all kinds of reasons, good, bad and ugly. So do bad writers. So do non-writers. Even honorable gentlemen of similar sound opinions sometimes fall out. It happens.

That we should be cast into recriminations concerning internal feuds at National Review from a quarter century ago, many years after the principals have shuffled off this mortal coil, here in a blog post about the NYC Mayoral race in 1965, is at least suggestive of an obsessive mentality that I, for one, would grow very cross with, very quickly, as a part of my own editorial endeavor.

Paul, the issue of Sobran is beyond a mere firing. It's a question of loyalty and not sending your friends up the river.

The Sobran incident is the event that damned Buckley in the eyes of many. His purge of paleos and John Birchers didn't help him much.

Plus, I don't trust anyone who Cultural Marxists say good things about (see Pope Francis). If the Modern Left hates you, you're doing something right.

William F. Buckley Jr. was at the start a brilliant social critic. God and Man at Yale and >McCarthy and His Enemies

were masterful. After The Unmaking of a Mayor he became respectable. Sad.

Right on, Thomas. I heard he once said to Gore Vidal, "If you call me a crypto-Nazi one more time, I'll punch you out you little queer!!". Right on national television.

That was a Buckley to admire. He had the incendiary fire of the interwar rightists like Ford, Fr. Coughlin, Lawrence Dennis, and Lindbergh.

But he turned. And in the end, that's what we'll remember him for. He won't go down in the annals of history as a great like Lindbergh or Coughlin but as a Quisling who betrayed his friends and the Right, and by default, his nation.

Y'all are incorrigible. The only thing missing from this thread is someone fulminating for Trump as a TRUE CONSERVATIVE.

"The only thing missing from this thread is someone fulminating for Trump as a TRUE CONSERVATIVE."

Hey now, that's a low-blow. I thought you would have expected better of us. Trump is most definitely NOT a conservative. All the better, conservatism is a failed movement. Time to look past that trap. Trump is not the solution but a step in the right direction.

Though I do find it odd that conservatives, including the non-paleo so-cons don't like Trump. At the very least he is pretty hilarious, the guy reminds me of Mussolini times Berlusconi. He just acts so friggin Guido. It's like watching a minstrel show but instead of blackface, it's orangeface.

Guys, guys (and by that I mean gals, too),

I realize you all are economic and political afficianados, but some of us poor slobs don't get around those parts, much. Could you, maybe, define your terms a bit, at tinsy-tinsy bit. I mean, I know several Guidos -Guido D'Arezzo, the inventor of staff notation, and Guido Six, the famous clarinetist (who just passed away), but who is the political Guido?

The Chicken

Chicken,

It's not an obscure political or economic term. It's more of a pop reference/slang term. Guido is a common slang word for Italians (especially of Sicilian descent) who live in New York or New Jersey. It was popularized by the show Jersey Shore and the obnoxious young Italian-Americans on the show liked to take their natural Italian swarthiness and push it up to 11 with spray on tans which made them look like roided out pumpkins. (Hence orange face since Trump is not Italian)

But traditionally it's been a slang word for Italians in general (hence the comparison to Mussolini and Berlusconi) in the same sense that Dago (from Diego) is a slang word for Spaniards. I think "guido" used to be considered an offensive slur until the Jersey Shorians turned "guid" and "guido" into their version of "nigga".

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