William F Buckley, Jr. was the founding figure of modern conservatism in America. He wrote God and Man at Yale when he was 25, and wrote many books afterward until he died in 2008.
But he had an extra dimension which seems to have been lost on the newer generations of conservatives, which I’ll discuss here.
In 1960, at age 35, in his home, WFB and several other “founders”, penned the Sharon Statement, which became the founding statement of the Young Americans for Freedom, (the YAF) which went on to become the central conservative campus organization for over 50 years.
I never joined, as I was not a conservative in my college days.
It was not until 1964, and the Goldwater campaign, that I became aware of Mr Buckley, who was then still not yet 40, 4 years younger than my dad, who subscribed to National Review that year and sent back- issues to me every few weeks or so.
By the time Ronald Reagan was elected, and I was 35, I had been a conservative for only four years, but never disagreed with National Review in all those earlier years about conservatism, just still holding onto my own brand of “Civil Rights liberalism”.
Like many liberals of my generation, my error was in believing government could do good things, which, later reading and real-life experience proved to me was wrong-headed and that the Founders knew exactly what they were doing when they designed government small, and left the people in charge.
In 1976 I had my Road to Damascus moment while in the Army, during the Ford-Carter campaign. I read a Mary McGrory column in the Arizona Republic where she stated (and I paraphrase) that “Modern Liberalism stands for the proposition that all human conduct should be subject to the political process.”
At that instant I ceased being a liberal, and never looked back.
The Sharon Statement, which I link here, while aimed at defining the YAF, is essentially the Canons of Conservatism. Virtually every conservative, including #NeverTrumpers, would agree with it, if they’d bother to read it.
So I recommend every millennial and Gen X’er to do just that.
But in 1960 it was written for college students who already possessed a core set of principles that inclined them to see threats to democracy, internal and external, and the freedom found in free markets and the uniqueness of America in the first place.
But today we cannot assume that millennials and Gen X’ers who have passed though our college system had any of those core principles imparted to them, at home or in public school. So, the Sharon Statement, and many of its founding principles are likely alien to them.
Easy to digest and similar to the Ten Commandments in structure, I liken the Sharon Statement more to the Apostle’s Creed which most every Christian faith recites, for it is a statement of faith, not rules of conduct.
It is also a self-reminder of one’s faith. The Apostle’s Creed weighs on me every time I recite it, for while my faith never wavers, when I recite the Creed my shoulders become heavy with the reminder of my many weaknesses; the four deadly sins still with me, Vanity (Pride), Envy, Wrath, and Sloth, and the other three, Lust, Gluttony and Greed that I’m too old or poor to pursue anymore.
This self-awareness William Buckley did not teach me, especially of my shortcomings. There were other men, far less educated than he, who did. I was always lucky that way. It was because of them, when I recite the Creed, that I can notice others as they fumble through their purses looking for a stick of gum while saying it.
It’s the “vain repetitions” (Mt 6:7) of our conservative beliefs that have always concerned me.
Today I worry whether younger people have picked up conservative slogans as their banner simply because some kid like David Hogg or Emma Gonzalez so annoyed them in high school they wanted some other way to distinguish themselves. (Since Hogg and his type are not natural leaders, it’s only natural to assume they would encourage an awful lot of alpha’s to go to the opposite camp just to be noticed as “not like them”.
But this can inspire people to become conservative for less than the best of reasons. “Not being like those guys” is not a good reason.
In fact, that used to be what defined the liberalism of the 1960s, “Civil Rights liberalism”, and defines why it was so easy to jettison when they came to that crossroads, having to choose between core principles and getting ahead socially and professionally.
The Sharon Statement was formulated after Barry Goldwater lost to Richard Nixon in the 1960 Republican primary, as a way to propagate conservatism on campus to fight back against what Buckley and his friends (rightly) concluded would be a rise of liberalism.
I was in high school at the time. My own circle of smart people (A-students), defined their liberalism entirely by two criteria, 1) the Civil Rights movement, and 2) “not being like those other guys” (C-students). By 1968, when we graduated from various universities, most had abandoned the freedom-theme of Dr MLK in favor of LBJ’s Great Society and welfare plan, which involved a kind of (in)voluntary internment in exchange for a monthly welfare check.
We’ve all seen how that worked out, but two generations now, don’t know how.
But no matter, for 1960s liberalism had been very good for them, professionally and socially, and by the 1970s, when liberalism turned hard Left, they had no option but to stay the course. Indeed, they regaled in what they had gained as members of a new rising social order, whether in the academy, business, or country-club set.
Mostly grandparents now, they formed the nexus of what we call “Modern Liberalism” today, i.e., the Left, which in all likelihood is still 90% perqs, privileges, and status, and only 10% ideology.
Over the past 50 years their children and grandchildren have fared very well as well in this club, taking on new cause after new cause never pausing even once to consider the betrayal they first made to Martin Luther King about the value of black freedom…in part because they never really shared it in the first place.
As Cactus Jack Garner, FDR’s first vice-president, might have said, their moral conviction “was as shallow as a pool of warm piss.”
It was defining themselves separately from “those other guys” that mattered most.
I joined the Army and got to know “those other guys” in an entirely different setting, and never stopped enjoying their company, first in industry for 10 years, then among the small business classes of the old Soviet Empire for 20.
So, when a younger conservative (under 50) today tells you his conservatism “goes without saying”, it generally doesn’t go without saying. Billy Graham once said that if we’re going to call ourselves Christian, “it would be nice if, from time to time, we mentioned Jesus.”
Like the Apostles Creed, the purpose of conservatism are “those other guys”, America’s Homer Simpson’s, and it really does need to be said aloud from time to time.
In fact, William F Buckley said so.
I asked him.
In 1992 I had just returned from the then-Soviet Union, where I was lucky to be one of only a few private Americans to witness its fall firsthand. It was a heady time. I also had the good fortune not to be there on the behalf of any government agency, but rather to meet people to discuss developing their small, private business sector, which Bill Clinton would eventually help snuff out.
I wrote Mr Buckley about what I had seen there, and during our back and forth I asked him about his quote about preferring to be governed by the first 400 names in the Boston Telephone Directory than the entire faculty of Harvard. I asked him if he really meant it?
Probably on that little typewriter he sat on his lap in his car on the way home or to the airport, (at least according to Murray Kempton), he simply typed out “You bet I did.”
Even if half-hearted, I considered Buckley’s comment significant, for it transcended “class” as my generation believed it to be. Buckley verified what I had always thought about the American common man, (the C-student) and why our system was set up by the Founders so that they would be and should be ultimately in charge in America.
Of all places, this was pointed out to me at a birthday dinner of a Ukrainian university professor in 1991, after I had read Jefferson’s preamble to the Declaration (the story here). They all cried. Than after dinner some ran up to tell me “Now we understand Amerika Constitution…even Ivan Ivanovich (the Soviet Homer Simpson) can pursue life and liberty without permission of state!”
There you have it, Bill Kristol. Key term, “self-evident” means even Homer Simpson can figure it out. And choose his leaders.
That became the “Homer Simpson clause” that needs to be mentioned, “from to time”, alongside the Canons of Conservatism, as younger conservatives try to establish their bona fides.
In America today, “those other guys” are no longer just ditch diggers, truck drivers and factory workers. They are also small business owners, small-town lawyers, corporate middle managers, nurses, even doctors, just plying their trades a million miles from those east and west coast high castles where are housed America’s intellectual brain trusts, who still refer to them as so many Homer Simpsons.
Veterans, who I’ll speak more about in the next part, have always had a different sense of mission than many of those writers at The Weekly Standard or National Review.
This is largely because of the nature of the relationship between soldiers and their understanding of their mission.
In the corporate world this is a natural process, as I learned first hand for about 10 years. I was in the a non-lawyer manufacturing world throughout the 80s, with one of the nation’s most recognized corporate brands. But while I spent 25% of my time with the corporate managers at their headquarters, even meeting with the CEO each week, I spent 75% of my time in the plants (the troops), where our product was produced by the other 90% of the company’s payroll.
So I was very prejudiced against the sideward glance front office managers give to the people who actually made what they tried to market and sell, what the Indians (of India) used to call the “thousand yard stare” when walking along a street in Bombay, when the English would look right through them, never acknowledging they were even there.
And this was years before iPhones.
I mention this only because it was the result of a relatively recent phenomenon, for it was only in the 70s-80’s that MBA’s and lawyers were taught in their respective professional schools to think of themselves as part of a separate class, and entitled to certain perquisites of society on that basis alone.
After years in the Army, I was just too old school.
This restructuring of the business class was the principal reason I ran away from home and went off to the Russias for 20 years in 1989.
Consequently, I’m always looking for this quality of conservatism, recognizing “those other guys”, the Homer Simpsons, whether it’s in Rush Limbaugh, 67, Stephen Hayes, 48, Ben Shapiro, 34, or Charlie Kirk, 24.
Only of late, I find fewer and fewer.
This means conservatism is in trouble in the next generation.
This is why I have both a concern for the state of education among conservatives, and the more general state of education in the population-at-large from which we are supposed to draw our membership.
Without the institutional platform our nation has relied upon for generations, in passing our constitutional culture on, we need to develop long-term plans to reach as many as we can in as many informal ways we can.
The best qualified to carry out this mission?
I’ll only say this once, but the American military is unlike any other military in the history of the world, and that is due to the relationship between Soldiers and their Mission.
Unlike the English, French, Germans, Russians, Chinese….make your own list…ours are always on the same page as to their mission, and their duty to their fellow soldier. Since modern warfare began in the 20th Century, if a captain went down, there was a lieutenant to take his place; that lieutenant a sergeant, that sergeant a corporal.
This trait is peculiarly American.
The Russians and Chinese hate us because we can do this, because their cultures could never allow it.
America has always had this X-factor, and in small business it is why we have thrived, while modern corporations, as more a matter of attitude than organizational structure, has created a cold top-heavy bureaucratic, class-based type of operation.
Obamacare was a direct attempt to destroy small business on this account. And nearly succeeded. And the Tea Party and 2010 wave election was a direct result, spawned entirely by “those other guys”.
Our worry should be what happens as those original “those other guys” begin to pass away. What of their replacements? Who will teach them?
The Left has known this math for years, that as the Boomer generation dies off, the Left will be able to replace it with youngsters more to their liking, all because they are in charge of producing those youngsters.
At best, it will take 10-20 years to reverse that politically, in public schools and universities, both bureaucracy-ladened. In the meantime we have to find ways to peel away as many younsters from the Left’s education factories as we can.
Veterans should be at the forefront, and we need money to help make that happen.
(This is only the Situation Analysis. For the Proposal, See Part II, at VeteransTales.org) in about two days.)