Tag Archives: William F. Buckley

Conservatives Have Fought Right-Wing Conspiracies Before: William F. Buckley, Jr. and The John Birch Society.

This is an interesting excerpt from a March 2008 article written by William F. Buckley, Jr. for Commentary Magazine. In it, Buckley discusses a strategy meeting he attended in early 1962 with a couple of other Conservative strategists and Senator Barry Goldwater. The main topic? How to deal with Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. The entire piece is absolutely worth reading (I’ve linked to it above), but I have chosen a specific excerpt in light of today’s article in The Daily Beast entitled Too Hot for Fox News:

 

Time was given to the John Birch Society lasting through lunch, and the subject came up again the next morning. We resolved that conservative leaders should do something about the John Birch Society. An allocation of responsibilities crystallized.

Goldwater would seek out an opportunity to dissociate himself from the “findings” of the Society’s leader, without, however, casting any aspersions on the Society itself. I, in National Review and in my other writing, would continue to expose Welch and his thinking to scorn and derision. “You know how to do that,” said Jay Hall.

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

“How would you define the Birch fallacy?” Jay Hall asked.

“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”

(*Among many other controversial comments over the years, Robert Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.”)

“I like that,” Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”

“Put away in Alaska?” I asked, mock-seriously. The wisecrack traced to Robert Welch’s expressed conviction, a year or so earlier, that the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.

 

The idea behind the term “Birch Fallacy” applies to so much of our contemporary political discourse; the very reasoning continues to be used often. It really is quite an ingenious and concise term for describing a means of attempting to make logical what is inherently illogical in the face of rationality. I thus propose that the “Birch Fallacy” should hold a greater place in our contemporary political lexicon. 

Also, apparently even in the 1960s Alaska was a little crazy.

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“Rush, I knew William F. Buckley, Jr. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a father of mine. Rush, you’re no William F. Buckley, Jr.”

In his latest article for The American Conservative entitled “How Radio Wrecks the Right,” John Derbyshire takes Limbaugh, the mini-Limbaughs (Hannity, Ingraham, Savage), and their multitudinous supporters in the Party to task:

With reasons for gratitude duly noted, are there some downsides to conservative talk radio? Taking the conservative project as a whole—limited government, fiscal prudence, equality under law, personal liberty, patriotism, realism abroad—has talk radio helped or hurt? All those good things are plainly off the table for the next four years at least, a prospect that conservatives can only view with anguish. Did the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Savages, and Ingrahams lead us to this sorry state of affairs?

They surely did. At the very least, by yoking themselves to the clueless George W. Bush and his free-spending administration, they helped create the great debt bubble that has now burst so spectacularly. The big names, too, were all uncritical of the decade-long (at least) efforts to “build democracy” in no-account nations with politically primitive populations. Sean Hannity called the Iraq War a “massive success,” and in January 2008 deemed the U.S. economy “phenomenal.”

Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.

One has to wonder, is there anybody left in the GOP with the influence to take Derbyshire’s extroardinarily good critique and find a means of translating his advice into part of a plan to revitalize the Republican Party? Moderates should take note.

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