The Decline of National Review
James P. Lubinskas, American Renaissance, September 2000
The October 11, 1999, cover story of National Review was a piece by Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru called “A Conservative No More,” which argued that Patrick Buchanan has abandoned conservative principles. The article complained about Mr. Buchanan’s isolationism, opposition to free trade, and support for certain government programs, but the most serious charge appeared in the subtitle: “The tribal politics of Pat Buchanan.” According to Mr. Ponnuru, “Buchananism is a form of identity politics for white people — and becomes more worrisome as it is married to collectivism.” Any expression of white identity is now apparently a betrayal of conservatism. It was not always so.
National Review is considered the flagship publication of post-World War II conservatism. William F. Buckley started it in 1955, declaring that it “stands athwart history yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Mr. Buckley was yelling “stop” to the spread of communism abroad and liberalism at home. That it should now attack Mr. Buchanan for supporting protectionism and market intervention is consistent with founding principles and no surprise. But few would have thought that after 44 years of publication, a senior editor with an Indian surname would condemn a popular white conservative for speaking up for whites.
In fact, the National Review of the 1950s, 60s and even 70s spoke up for white people far more vigorously than Pat Buchanan would ever dare to today. The early National Review heaped criticism on the civil rights movement, Brown v. Board of Education, and people like Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King, whom it considered race hustlers. Some of the greatest names in American conservatism — Russell Kirk, Willmore Kendall, James Kilpatrick, Richard Weaver, and a young Bill Buckley — wrote articles defending the white South and white South Africans in the days of segregation and apartheid. NR attacked the 1965 immigration bill that opened America up to Third-World immigration, and wrote frankly about racial differences in IQ. There were always hints of compromise, but passages from some back issues could have been lifted right out of American Renaissance. Not so today. NR still supports immigration reform and is not afraid of the IQ debate, but Mr. Ponnuru’s article is just one example of its complete abandonment of the interests of whites as a group. What used to be an important part of the NR message it now dismissed as illegitimate “white identity politics.”
‘Why the South Must Prevail’
A famous example of the early NR stance on race was an unsigned editorial of August 24, 1957, titled “Why the South Must Prevail.” It was almost certainly written by Mr. Buckley, since he uses similar language in his book Up From Liberalism. The editorial argued against giving blacks the vote because it would undermine civilization in the South:
The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.
National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct . . . It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.
The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class . . . Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.
The final passage about “genuine cultural equality between the races” can be read either as a last-minute loss of will or as a description of a criterion for the black franchise that could never be met. In any case, the editorial recognizes a principle NR would never articulate today: the right of a civilized minority — racial or otherwise — to impose its will upon an uncivilized majority. NR Contributing Editor L. Brent Bozell dissented from the editorial on constitutional grounds but still admitted, “It is understandable that White Southerners should try to have it both ways — they can’t know what would happen should Negroes begin to vote, and they naturally want to cover their bet.”
Needless to say, even in the 1950s, when the interests of whites were more openly recognized, the editorial called down the wrath of the liberals. Prof. William Muehl of the Yale Divinity School wrote: [I]n that vicious and wholly amoral thesis you exposed again the basic savagery of the reactionary mentality at bay.” Would anything NR publishes today evoke such fury from established liberals?
But Mr. Buckley’s magazine stood firm. A book review from the July 13th issue of the same year — 1957 — by Richard Weaver was called, “Integration is Communization.” Mr. Weaver found Carl Rowan’s Go South to Sorrow “a sorry specimen of Negro intellectual leadership,” and went on to express deep suspicion about the whole integrationist enterprise:
‘Integration’ and ‘Communization’ are, after all, pretty closely synonymous. In light of what is happening today, the first may be little more than a euphemism for the second. It does not take many steps to get from the ‘integrating’ of facilities to the ‘communizing’ of facilities, if the impulse is there.
He concluded with a restatement of the principles of voluntary association. “In a free society, associations for educational, cultural, social, and business purposes have a right to protect their integrity against political fanaticism. The alternative to this is the destruction of free society and the replacement of its functions by government, which is the Marxist dream.” Government’s current “civil rights” powers to limit freedom of association have, indeed, brought virtually every corner of our lives under bureaucratic control, but would NR dare say so today?
Likewise in 1957, Sam M. Jones interviewed segregationist Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. In a Q&A format, Mr. Jones asked, “Do the people of the South fear political domination by the Negro or miscegenation or both?”
Senator Russell replied:
Both. As you know, Mr. Jones, there are some communities and some states where the Negro’s voting potential is very great. We wish at all costs to avoid a repetition of the Reconstruction period when newly freed slaves made the laws and undertook their enforcement. We feel even more strongly about miscegenation or racial amalgamation.
The experience of other countries and civilizations has demonstrated that the separation of the races biologically is highly preferable to amalgamation.
I know of nothing in human history that would lead us to conclude that miscegenation is desirable.
Sam M. Jones wrote another article that year criticizing integration in the Washington, D.C., public schools. Titled “Caution: Integration at Work,” he accurately predicted that “the problem of school integration in the nation’s capital may be eventually solved by the steady migration of the white population out of the District of Columbia.” Jones criticized school integration on the grounds of IQ differences, citing “a white average ranging from 105 to 111 and a Negro average of 87 to 89. (An intelligent quotient of 85 is generally considered the minimum for receiving education.)” He went on to note:
‘Data on juvenile delinquency . . . revealed a marked increase in truancy, theft, vandalism and sex-offenses in integrated schools. Dances and dramatic presentations have been quietly given up by most high schools. Senior and junior class plays have been discontinued. Inter-racial fights are frequent and constant vigilance is required to prevent molestation or attempted molestation of white girls by Negro boys or girls. In contrast, the schools outside the integrated neighborhoods have no more such problems than they had four years ago.’ Mr. Jones concluded that ‘the record shows . . . that the problems of integration are extremely serious and that no solution is in sight.’
The September 28, 1957 issue contained a piece by James Kilpatrick called “Right and Power in Arkansas,” in which he endorsed Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’ call-up of the National Guard to prevent forced integration at Little Rock’s Central High School. Defending a community’s right to keep the peace, he wrote that “the State of Arkansas and Orval Faubus are wholly in the right; they have acted lawfully; they are entitled to those great presumptions of the law which underlie the whole of our judicial tradition.” Predicting a “storm” of white resistance he wrote, “Conceding, for the sake of discussion, that the Negro pupil has these new rights, what of the white community? Has it none?”
An unsigned editorial in the September 21, 1957, issue put the blame for the whole incident squarely on the Supreme Court:
Under the disintegrating effects of Brown v. Board of Education, the units of our society are forced into absolute dilemmas for which there is literally no solution within the traditional American structure. Violence and the threat of violence; base emotions; the cynical exploitation of members of both races by ruthless ideologues; the shameful spectacle of heavily armed troops patrolling the lawns and schoolyards of once tranquil towns and villages; the turgid dregs of hatred, envy, resentment, and sorrow — all these are part of the swelling harvest of Brown v. Board of Education.
On the tenth anniversary of Brown, NR offered this June 2, 1964, editorial:
But whatever the exact net result in the restricted field of school desegregation, what a price we are paying for Brown! It would be ridiculous to hold the Supreme Court solely to blame for the ludicrously named ‘civil rights movement’ — that is, the Negro revolt . . . But the Court carries its share of the blame. Its decrees, beginning with Brown, have on the one hand encouraged the least responsible of the Negro leaders in the course of extra-legal and illegal struggle that we now witness around us . . . Brown, as National Review declared many years ago, was bad law and bad sociology. We are now tasting its bitter fruits. Race relations in the country are ten times worse than in 1954.
In the 1960s NR continued to oppose the civil rights movement and the assumption that race could somehow be reduced to irrelevance. A July 2, 1963, editorial declared: “The Negro people have been encouraged to ask for, and to believe they can get, nothing less than the evanescence of color, and they are doomed to founder on the shoals of existing human attitudes — their own included.” Race, as AR continues to point out, cannot be made not to matter, and NR once understood that.
An article by James Kilpatrick in the September 24, 1963, issue argued that the Civil Rights Bill (eventually passed in 1964) should be voted down. He wrote, “I believe this bill is a very bad bill. In my view, the means here proposed are the wrong means . . . In the name of achieving certain ‘rights’ for one group of citizens this bill would impose some fateful compulsions on another group of citizens.” After it passed, an editorial declared: “The Civil Rights Act has been law for only a little over two months, yet it already promises to be the source of much legalistic confusion, civic chaos and bureaucratic malpractice.”
Mr. Kilpatrick also took aim at the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the April 20, 1965 issue. “Must We Repeal the Constitution to Give the Negro the Vote?” he asked, accusing the bill’s supporters of “perverting the Constitution.” He thought certain blacks should be given the right to vote but notes, “Over most of this century, the great bulk of Southern Negroes have been genuinely unqualified for the franchise.” He also defended segregation as rational for Southerners. “Segregation is a fact, and more than a fact; it is a state of mind. It lies in the Southern subconscious next to man’s most elementary instincts, for self-preservation, for survival, for the untroubled continuation of a not intolerable way of life.”
Mr. Buckley softened his position on civil rights in the 1960s but to a point that would still be intolerable for conservatives today. In a column written five months before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and called “The Issue at Selma,” he called for giving blacks the vote but perhaps restricting the franchise to high school graduates. He sympathized with the Southern position writing, “In much of the South, what is so greatly feared is irresponsible, mobocratic rule, and it is a fear not easily dissipated, because it is well-grounded that if the entire Negro population in the South were suddenly given the vote, and were to use it as a bloc, and pursuant to directives handed down by some of the more demagogic leaders, chaos would ensue.” He also warned of “a suddenly enfranchised, violently embittered Negro population which will take the vote and wield it as an instrument of vengeance, shaking down the walls of Jericho even to their foundations, and reawakening the terrible genocidal antagonisms that scarred the Southern psyche during the days of Reconstruction.”
Mr. Buckley expressed similar doubts about multiracial democracy in his 1959 Up From Liberalism: “Democracy’s finest bloom is seen only in its natural habitat, the culturally homogenous community. There, democracy induces harmony. Harmony (not freedom) is democracy’s finest flower. Even a politically unstable society of limited personal freedom can be harmonious if governed democratically, if only because the majority understand themselves to be living in the house that they themselves built.”
NR loathed the “Black Power” movement, which it described in a July 19, 1966, editorial as a natural outgrowth of the civil rights movement:
It isn’t surprising when you come to think of it, that the militants in the civil rights movement should move to a new concept — they call it Black Power — at this stage, the movement having come into doldrums. What made it inevitable was the ravenous rhetoric of the past few years, whose motto ‘Freedom Now’ called for nothing less, when analyzed, than the evanescence of color. Since no such thing could be brought about, can be brought about, there is a sense of disappointment among those civil rights workers who somehow permitted themselves to believe that the passage of a few bits and pieces of legislation would transform the life of the American Negro . . . It never followed that Negroes would suddenly cease to be poor, that whites would cease to prefer the company of whites, that the overwhelming majority of the American population would not continue to concentrate on individual and family concerns.
The February 12, 1963, issue attacked another element of the movement: “the Black Muslims — who have no connection with real Mohammedanism — are ferociously anti-white and anti-Christian . . . believe in violence, and train actively for the War of Armageddon, in which the blacks will kill all the whites.”
An October 8, 1968 article called “Black Power and the Campus” by David Brudnoy observes: “Black power today means a total striving by embittered groups of Negroes for everything their fancies demand. In its path lie the crumpled remains of the Constitution, the tattered sleeves of law, the punctured corpse of Reason, and literally the bodies of those Negroes and whites who oppose it.”
In the July 15, 1969 issue we find an editorial about the Black Panthers:
Under a portrait of Che Guevara they installed in a church auditorium, they distribute free food and comic books to kids at breakfasts. The food is contributed by local merchants, who risk having their stores burned down (one case so far — enough to make the point) if they refuse. The comics are crude, nasty affairs depicting heroic black kids killing and intimidating pigs in police uniforms.
NR used to be forthright about dressing down prominent blacks. A June 7, 1958, editorial on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. stated:
That Powell is a racist has been clear for years. Last June, in National Review, Miss Maureen Buckley covered the subject neatly: ‘Adam Clayton Powell’s championing of the Negro cause has led him to a strange racist extremism . . . In 1946 he pronounced in the Congressional Record his fixed conclusion that, ‘the best thing that could happen would be the passing of the white man’s world [which] has stood for nationalism, oppression, and barbarism.’
In the same manner, a September 7, 1965, article by Will Herberg blames Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement for the 1965 Los Angeles riots:
For years now, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates have been deliberately undermining the foundations of internal order in this country. With their rabble-rousing demagoguery, they have been cracking the ‘cake of custom’ that holds us together. With their doctrine of ‘civil disobedience’ they have been teaching hundreds of thousands of Negroes . . . that it is perfectly all right to break the law and defy constituted authority if you are a Negro-with-a-grievance . . . And they have done more than talk. They have on occasion after occasion, in almost every part of the country, called out their mobs on the streets, promoted ‘school strikes’ sit-ins, lie-ins, in explicit violation of the law and in explicit violation of the public authority. They have taught anarchy and chaos by word and deed . . .
In 1979 Mr. Buckley was still criticizing Martin Luther King saying, “When it was black men persecuting white or black men — in the Congo, for instance — he was strangely silent on the issue of human rights. The human rights of Chinese, or of Caucasians living behind the Iron Curtain never appeared to move him.” This is pretty mild criticism but it would not appear in today’s NR, which fawns over King as much as the liberals do.
A Reliable Voice
Criticism of the American Civil Rights movement was not the only way in which NR used to promote “identity politics for white people.” It wrote articles about South Africa clearly endorsing apartheid as the only workable system for the country. In the March 9, 1965, issue Russell Kirk decried court-enforced black voting rights as “theoretical folly” that the US would nevertheless survive, but declared prophetically that the same dogma in South Africa, “if applied, would bring anarchy and the collapse of civilization.” For Kirk, civilization required apartheid: “In a time of virulent ‘African nationalism,’ . . . how is South Africa’s ‘European’ population . . . to keep the peace and preserve a prosperity unique in the Dark Continent?” White rule, he answered, is a prudent way, “to govern tolerably a society composed of several races, among which only a minority is civilized.” He called for humane treatment of South African blacks but dismissed their leaders as “witch doctors” and “reckless demagogues.” He wrote frankly about the “‘European’ element which makes South Africa the only modern and prosperous African country.”
NR also used to understand immigration. A September 21, 1965, article by Ernest van den Haag called “More Immigration?” took on the impending reform [signed into law on October 3, 1965, by Lyndon Johnson] that would open up America to the Third World. Mr. van den Haag, who is still listed as a contributing editor to NR, argued that our then-sound immigration laws should be made even stricter, not looser. Rejecting the charge that the laws were “racist,” he wrote: “one need not believe that one’s own ethnic group, or any ethnic group, is superior to others . . . in order to wish one’s country to continue to be made up of the same ethnic strains in the same proportions as before. And, conversely, the wish not to see one’s country overrun by groups one regards as alien need not be based on feelings of superiority or ‘racism’.” He goes on to say, “the wish to preserve one’s identity and the identity of one’s nation requires no justification . . . any more than the wish to have one’s own children, and to continue one’s family through them need be justified or rationalized by a belief that they are superior to the children of others.”
A September 26, 1975, review of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints makes much the same point. Prof. Jeffrey Hart, who is currently listed as a senior editor, called the book a “sensation” that rocked liberal sensibilities. He wrote:
Most people . . . are able to perceive that the ‘other group’ looks rather different and lives rather differently from their own. Such ‘racist’ or ‘ethnocentric’ feelings are undoubtedly healthy, and involve merely a preference for one’s own kind. Indeed — and Raspail hammers away at this point throughout his novel — no group can long survive unless it does ‘prefer itself.’ . . . The liberal rote anathema on ‘racism’ is in effect a poisonous assault upon Western self-preference.
Mr. van den Haag took a thoroughly sound position on IQ differences. In the December 1, 1964, issue — a full thirty years before The Bell Curve and five years before Arthur Jensen’s celebrated article in the Harvard Educational Review — he interviewed an unnamed “eminent sociologist” (who happened to be himself). Under the title “Intelligence or Prejudice?” and the subtitle, “An eminent sociologist discusses Negro intelligence and accuses certain of his colleagues of prejudice against logic and discrimination against facts,” the article took on the ever-trendy nonsense that intelligence cannot be tested and that the concept of IQ is meaningless.
The “eminent sociologist” defended IQ testing by citing the work of Hans Eysenck and research on identical twins. He claimed intelligence is largely heritable and that environmental factors cannot improve it by much. Mr. van den Haag wrote that integrated education impairs whites and “demoralizes” blacks, and advocated separation: “I am all in favor of improving the quality of education for all. But this can be done only if pupils are separated according to ability (whatever determines it). And this means very largely according to race.”
In an April 8, 1969 column called “On Negro Inferiority” Mr. Buckley wrote about the furor caused by Arthur Jensen’s research about race and IQ, calling it “massive, apparently authoritative.” Mr. Buckley even bragged that “Professor Ernest van den Haag, writing in National Review (Dec. 1, 1964) . . . brilliantly anticipated the findings of Dr. Jensen and brilliantly coped with their implications.”
The late Revilo Oliver, classicist and outspoken racialist, made regular appearances in the early NR. Mr. Buckley thought so highly of him he put his name on the masthead and invited him to his wedding. Oliver, who refused to compromise and was eventually banished from the magazine, also knew something about race and IQ before Arthur Jensen did. This is from his November 2, 1957, review of Ashley Montagu’s Man: His First Million Years:
Dr. Montagu, who composed the UNESCO Statement on Race, has again skillfully trimmed the facts of anthropology to fit the Liberal propaganda line. Every anthropologist knows, for example, that aborigines in Australia propagated their species for a hundred thousand years without ever suspecting that pregnancy might be a consequence of sexual intercourse. Equally striking evidence of intellectual capacity is provided by the many peoples that never discovered how to kindle a fire or plant a seed. But Dr. Montagu, after making a great show of cautious objectivity, proclaims that ‘anthropologists are unable to find any evidence’ of ‘significant differences in mental capacity’ between ‘ethnic groups.’ If you can tell such whoppers with a straight face, you too can ask the ‘United Nations’ to recognize your right to largesse from the pockets of American taxpayers.
No Longer Yelling ‘Stop’
Clearly, the early National Review was often a voice for white Americans. It not only defended their culture, it defended their race. White Southerners had a right — both constitutionally and morally — to protect themselves from black rule and black incivility. White South Africans had the same right. The nation as a whole had a right to defend its European heritage and racial identity by closing its borders to non-whites. As Mr. van den Haag wrote, this policy needed no justification. And if low black intelligence and high crime rates hindered white students from learning, that was sufficient reason for separate education.
Today’s NR has not yet abandoned every subject of interest to whites qua whites. It is solidly against affirmative action and multicultural education. It defended The Bell Curve and has published reviews of J. Philippe Rushton’s work. It still advocates immigration reform, though its position now is that a pause in immigration will make it easier for the non-whites who are already here to assimilate. Even that stance could crumble. In 1998 Mr. Buckley demoted the two men most responsible for the magazines anti-immigration tone, editor John O’Sullivan and senior editor Peter Brimelow. Filling their places are people like Mr. Ponnuru and John Miller, who like immigration and are afraid of “identity politics for white people.” Today’s NR is no longer the brave journal that fought integration and tried to keep America European. It is not yelling “stop” to multiracialism and the displacement of the country’s founding stock by aliens. That, as Mr. Ponnuru explains, would be to play “tribal politics.”
[Editor’s Note: This essay appears in A Race Against Time: Racial Heresies for the 21st Century, a collection of some of the finest essays and reviews published by American Renaissance. It is available for purchase here.]