ON GOLDWATER’S BRAINS TRUST: does it mean a comeback for the conservative intellectual ?
ON GOLDWATER’S BRAINS TRUST: does it mean a comeback for the conservative intellectual ?
THE DAYS when an American politician could run for high office without a phalanx of intellectuals behind him will soon be nothing more than a vague, pleasant memory. Until recently it was possible for a politician to get himself elected, even to the presidency, with nothing more than charm, piety, money, and an honest lust for power. Alas, this is no longer true. Styles in politics have changed, high thought has come into fashion, and now it is obligatory for anyone who desires the presidency to maintain a following of scholars, theorists, moralists and general litterateurs. Fortunately, these people are not hard to find. Let anyone announce that he is a candidate for president, and immediately he will find himself surrounded by enough professors to staff a small college, all of them eager to write his speeches, edit his books, make his phrases and tell the world of his excellence.
The case of Senator Barry Goldwater strikingly illustrates this principle. Senator Goldwater has been widely condemned as simpleminded, and the newspapermen who covered his triumph at the Republican national convention in July depicted his followers as dull, narrow - minded businessmen. Some editorial writers went so far as to say that the Republican party had now been captured by the KnowNothings. But on the contrary, Senator Goldwaters’ camp contains not only wild-eyed John Birchers and dull-eyed capitalists; it is also now the home of a growing cadre of intellectuals. There are Know-Somethings, as well as Know-Nothings, among the Goldwater people, and they constitute, 1 think, one of the most fascinating aspects of the Goldwater phenomenon.
NATIONAL REVIEW: BARRY’S ANSWER TO HARVARD
The centre of Goldwater thinking is National Review, a fortnightly political magazine. National Review is to Goldwater what Harvard University was to John Kennedy: a source of ideas, inspiration and propaganda. In its pages the Goldwater intellectuals damn Goldwater’s enemies, praise his friends, and review each others' books. The publisher, William A. Rusher, has been a part of the Goldwater movement since it started in earnest in 1961. I he editor, William F. Buckley Jr., is far and away the most articulate propagandist among Goldwater men. The other editors and regular contributors, numbering about thirty in all, include most of the professors and writers who have aligned themselves with Goldwater. James Burnham, the author of The Managerial Revolution, a widely praised book of two decades ago, recently wrote Suicide of the West, in which he proves that liberalism is destroying
Western civilization's grip on the world. Frank S. Meyer is the editor of the recent What is Conservatism?, a one-volume collection of ideas by twelve writers and professors, most of them pro-Goldwater. none of them anti-Goldwater. Ralph de Toledano recently wrote The Winning Side: the case for G old water Republicanism. L. Brent Bozell wrote some or all of Goldwater's own The Conscience of a Conservative; with his brother-in-law, Buckley, he also wrote McCarthy and His Enemies, a defense of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy.
BARRY’S EGGHEADS ARE WITH HIM ALL THE WAY
A curious characteristic of the Goldwater writing in National Review is its complete lack of qualification. Liberal magazines have always printed serious criticism of liberal idols like Stevenson or Kennedy; but in National Review not a word against Goldwater ever appears, except in quotations from liberal writers (who are then denounced) or in letters to the editor. People who have not followed the tortuous line of American conservative thought in recent years may find it difficult to believe that these intellectuals, and a great many more, arc prepared to commit themselves to Goldwater without qualification. After all, his speeches (and. even more, his off-thecuff remarks to newspapermen) have made it plain that he lacks subtlety, lacks even a basic notion of how difficult and complex are the problems of American federal government. At the same time, an intellectual who attaches himself to Goldwater also attaches himself to some rather unpleasant elements: racists, Birchers (w'hose leader National Review has denounced) and genuine Know-Nothings. How is it possible to make the connection?
At their best, the Goldwater intellectuals are moved by a sense of crisis in American affairs. They believe that in foreign policy the United States has, through its own errors, been hemmed in and, too often, defeated. They believe that in domestic policy a liberal Establishment has become a kind of tyranny, erecting a system of laws which have suppressed individualism. Ralph de Toledano expressed this in the last sentence of 'Ehe Winning Side:
"In 1964, and in elections to come, the choice will be between conservatism and liberalism. between a soaring view of the American future and a niggling concept of our destiny, between the free prosperity that men make for themselves and the shackled security that their governments may dole out to them.”
At their worst, the Goldwater intellectuals express no more than a sense of niggling discontent over what has been done to them. Honestly conservative, they have lived for the last fif-
teen years in the midst of an American intellectual community in which intelligence and liberalism are equated, in which conservative views are believed to prove a man's stupidity, and in which an expressed feeling of rage towards communist tyranny is thought to denote idiocy. It is this discontent which led Buckley to import the idea of the Establishment into the United States from England and attach it to that cluster of political and intellectual forces which have kept some form of liberalism in the White House since 1932. This same feeling produced one of the most remarkable articles National Review has ever run. a piece in which Hugh Kenner predicted what a Goldwater presidency would do to intellectual life in the United States. Kenner, a Canadian literary critic who moved to the United States in the 1940s. is the author of distinguished books on T. S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett; he is also a Goldwater supporter. His article predicted that, when Goldwater takes over, scores of brilliant conservative scholars (heretofore ignored by liberal-run Washington) will assume positions of national power. This will produce waves of conservatism throughout American universities, as second-rate and third-rate professors (who have no convictions of their own) switch from liberalism to conservatism in order to be close to power. In its gloating references to the humiliation of liberals and the elevation of conservatives. Kenner's article was perhaps the most naked expression of campusgovernment power politics ever published.
Goldwater intellectuals may be idealists, or malcontents, or power-seekers, or a combination of these: mostly they are not. however, aligned with the lunatic fringe. They don't write about the fluoridation conspiracy, they have nothing to do with anti-Semites, and they don't want to start a nuclear war. (Their argument with liberals on the use of nuclear arms is an argument of degree: they simply want to
use the threat of nuclear weapons to achieve political goals more often than liberals do).
But there are exceptions. !.. Brent Bozell is a curious case: in National Review's pages he shows a surprising affection for Franco’s Spain and some months ago he wrote an article proving. to his satisfaction, that when you came right down to it. personal freedom wasn’t really a necessary characteristic of the good society.
( His article was attacked in later issues by other Goldwater men. ) Karl Hess, who is not a contributor to National Review, is an even more curious case. He wrote Goldwater’s notorious acceptance speech at San Francisco (“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’’) anti apparently Goldwater has adopted him as his major speechwriter. Hess was a staff member and later a contributor to the American Mercury during the middle 1950s, the years when its publisher used that oncegreat magazine to express his belief that a Jewish conspiracy was aiming to conquer the world. Hess didn't agree with that point of view, but he worked there, and even continued to work there after the magazine’s anti-Semitism became obvious. He saw it as a job, much like any other.
UP FROM LIBERALISM —AND OUT OF OBSCURITY
The Goldwater intellectuals and writers differ in many ways but they tend to come together on one point, they sec Goldwater as the instrument by which their ideas can be brought out of obscurity and thrust into the light of power. In this they resemble the followers of Henry A. Wallace, who ran as a Progressive party candidate for president of the United States in 1948 — and indeed, as the liberal writer John P. Roche has pointed out. Goldwater himself resembles Wallace in some ways. “I'm no expert on the Communist party," Wallace used to say amiably, “but the communists I’ve met have been very good Americans." Goldwater says much the same of Birchers. Both Wallace and Goldwater were unable to compromise with moderates but both were willing to get along with people who were more extreme than they were — the communists in Wallace's case, the Birchers and the oil money hatemongers in Goldwater’s. It is just this extremism — so repugnant to most intelligent people — which makes Goldwater appealing to a certain kind of intellectual. Traditionally, intellectuals have looked down on politicians who compromise, who water down their philosophy for the sake of electoral victory. To this sort of intellectual Goldwater appears pure-hearted and strong, a refreshing change and a fit object of any serious thinker’s devotion.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.