March 04, 2008

Buckley Contra Kristol

Among the neocons? gushing, mostly interchangeable eulogies to WFB that have been circulating around the net, William?s Kristol?s is particularly worthy of deconstruction.

A sentence from paragraph two jumps off the page:

It’s true that he saw in conservatism a set of doctrines that transcended any one nation, or any one time, and that approached the status of political, even metaphysical, truths.

Kristol doesn?t tell us what these ?truths,? metaphysical and otherwise, exactly are? He doesn’t seem to be referring to Buckley?s Catholic faith, which informed but never defined his foreign policy, but instead some transcendental ?conservatism.? 

It?s likely that what Kristol has in mind is something like what he and Robert Kagan wrote 12 years ago in their outline for a ?Neo-Reganite Foreign Policy?:

The remoralization of America at home ultimately requires the remoralization of American foreign policy. For both follow from Americans’ belief that the principles of the Declaration of Independence are not merely the choices of a particular culture but are universal, enduring, “self-evident” truths. That has been, after all, the main point of the conservatives’ war against a relativistic multiculturalism. For conservatives to preach the importance of upholding the core elements of the Western tradition at home, but to profess indifference to the fate of American principles abroad, is an inconsistency that cannot help but gnaw at the heart of conservatism.

Before accepting Kristol’s comments about Buckley, it?s useful to look and see what Buckley actually wrote regarding America’s spreading of ?conservatism? abroad:

?The dogmatists? assumption that democracy tends to wash away the exorbitant sins of its people is otherwise disturbed by a knowledge of history.? (July 16, 1991)

In reference to beltway eggheads? desire to install parliamentary democracy in Haiti:
?But just as Woodrow Wilson was set on making the world safe for democracy, breeding instead Stalin and Hitler, we rail against despotism and breed public chaos.? (Dec. 1, 1987)

?[D]emocracy does not necessarily usher in virtuous governments or tolerable human conditions. ?[P]articularly in its currently accepted, fanatical application (one-man, one-vote), [democracy] is nothing more than a Western superstition. We are entitled to our superstitions and to our taboos, but it does not make much sense to assume that they are readily universalized.? (Feb. 13, 1986). 

There doesn?t seem to be much ?to end tyranny in our time? here.

Kristol lets out why he truly appreciates Buckley when he mentions that WFB ?welcomed many kinds of conservatives, old and new, into the fold at National Review.? Yes, and it?s only because Buckley allowed the neocons in through the gates at NR that someone like Kristol could be considered a ?conservative? at all. 

Kristol is right to be grateful to Buckley, but his depiction of the man?s political philosophy couldn?t be more wrong.   

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