problem with political novels is that pedantry all too often
overcomes poetry. Readers of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Getting
It Right are made all too painfully aware of this
long before the last page of this polemic disguised as a novel
Buckley's little morality play, teeming with often obscure
figures in the history of the American Right, the main character
is really a magazine, National Review, Buckley's brainchild.
What holds the narrative together is that editorial voice:
lecturing, scolding, and energetically excommunicating deviationists
the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, the libertarian
Rothbard, and John Birch Society founder Robert
Welch while what passes for the story line progresses,
creaking and groaning all the way.
on the interaction of two characters, Woodroe Raynor, a Mormon,
and a functionary of the John Birch Society, and Leonora Goldstein,
an Ayn Rand acolyte, the story follows the path of their disillusion.
Both start out as young idealists, enamored of their respective
mentors on account of the best of intentions. Solidly anti-Communist,
committed philosophically to the restoration of limited government
and possessed of a crusading spirit, they are a "movement"
couple, whose banter reflects the internal debates on the
Right during the turbulent 1960s, presented by Buckley as
a three-way tug of war between Welch, Rand, and National
the Eisenhower years, the Kennedy era, and the Goldwater campaign,
the reader is taken along on this couple's ideological odyssey,
the two of them arguing back and forth (but goodnaturedly).
Woody, ever the man-of-action, disdains Rand's emphasis on
the power of ideas: "What do we have going to hold the Communists
back? For instance, we've got to get Castro out of Cuba. How're
we going to do that? Send John Galt over there? Yo soy John
Galt. Yo explico todo." Leonora's answer is to change the
subject, to a passage from Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged,
explicating the author's theory of sex.
objects to the minimalist state advocated by Rand and the
libertarians on the grounds that we need to fight Communism
with "an air force and a military and a CIA." But it turned
out that none of these brought down the Red Empire. In the
end, the peoples of the captive nations sat on their hands,
and refused to produce, rising up in a massive and relatively
nonviolent act of civil disobedience. The Soviet implosion
demonstrated, in reality and on a grand scale, the plot-theme
of Atlas Shrugged, which tells the story of what happens
when the men of intelligence, ability, and integrity go on
strike and withdraw their sanction from a system that considers
them sacrificial victims. In an important sense, John Galt,
the golden-haired hero of Rand's magnum opus and the personification
of her ideal man as a free trader in a capitalist society,
did take down the Soviet bloc.
is a strategy behind the author's seemingly odd decision to
translate what should have been an essay into fictional terms:
it permits him to put words into the mouths of his enemies.
The problem is that they are all the wrong words. In his portrait
of Rand as a megalomaniac cultist, Buckley has her saying
that her novels were intended as "a catalyst for social change"
the exact opposite of Rand's actual position, which was
"art for art's sake," clearly explained in her widely available
Goal of My Writing."
Russian-born author's sex life is of more interest to Buckley
than anything she ever wrote: except for one brief literary
passage, he is careful not to quote her actual words. The
result is that Rand's views are consistently misrepresented.
She was never an anarchist, as Buckley implies. Furthermore,
far from opposing the cold war, Rand embraced it, and wrote
that it would be morally justified to invade any Communist
is plain wrong about Rothbard's views on political action
(p. 269): far from opposing it as an unprincipled concession
to statism, the late libertarian theorist was a longtime Libertarian
Party member until he left, in 1991 when he was of the earliest
supporters of Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign. Buckley
is also quite wrong to aver that the Rothbard-Rand split was
over "whether there's any life left in the Republican party."
As I show in my biography of Rothbard, An Enemy of the
State, the issue was the very real personal and psychological
abuse Rothbard suffered at the hands of the Rand cult, as
well as Rothbard's opposition to the Vietnam war.
Welch's great sin, in Buckley's eyes, was to have questioned
the legitimacy of the regime in the midst of the cold war.
Welch's ultimate betrayal, according to Buckley, is to have
imagined that the architects of defeat in Vietnam were guilty
of treason rather than hubris, criminals and not mere sinners.
In reading Welch's take on Vietnam as a "trap" designed by
the Communists, Woody experiences his moment of epiphany:
for Welch to have questioned the interventionist imperative
in any way is such a shock that it causes him to break
with the JBS.
mentions the Tonkin
Gulf incident, and has Barry Goldwater cheering on Lyndon
Baines Johnson "Is Lyndon really fighting back?" as the
President bombs North Vietnam. "Holy Moses!" exclaims Woody,
as he hears the news. But the Tonkin Gulf incident, as we
know now, was a fabrication: James Stockdale,
a Navy aviator who responded to the alleged "attacks" on the
U.S. destroyers, says it never happened: "I had the best seat
in the house to watch that event," says Stockdale in his 1984
Love and War, "and our destroyers were just shooting
at phantom targets there were no PT boats there. There
was nothing but black water and American firepower." Recently
released transcripts of conversations between White House
officials and military personnel in the field underscore LBJ's
strategy of deception
and covert provocation. We were lied into war. Yet Buckley
reiterates the lie, as if the truth had not long since been
villains in this book are not the Left, but those deemed too
far to the right. Every bugbear and shibboleth ever raised
by liberal academics such as Richard
Hofstadter about the "paranoid style" of traditional conservatives,
and by the Marxist sociologist Theodor Adorno, who accused
opponents of FDR and the New Deal of exemplifying "the authoritarian
personality," is trotted out by Buckley. Such deservedly
obscure figures as General
Edwin A. Walker, Billy James Hargis,
and others are utilized to smear supporters of states rights
as racist monsters: anyone who challenges the triumph of "civil
rights" over property rights is vilified as a segregationist.
Getting It Right, in short, tells the story of the
American conservative movement as seen through neoconservative
the climactic scene if it can be called that a thoroughly
neocon-ized Woodroe gets a phone call from General Walker,
who wants his opinion on National Review's denunciation
of the John Birch Society. "You know," says the General, "A
lot of the people who got together to start up that magazine
were Communists." He mentions Willi
Schlamm, Frank S. Meyer, and James Burnham.
Woody testily replies: "Actually, General, Burnham was a Trotskyist."
This fails to impress the General, but Woody, determined to
stand up to Walker, persists: "The Communists assassinated
Trotsky." It was, avers Walker, "a lovers quarrel," and Woody
wisely decides he "didn't want to argue that point."
is something very strange about this book, a quality I couldn't
quite put my finger on until the final pages. If I hadn't
seen Buckley's name emblazoned on the cover, and his photo
on the flyleaf, I'd have sworn the author of Getting
It Right was some liberal college professor. Someone along
the lines of those Berkeley psychologists whose recent "study"
of conservatives diagnosed them as prone to "fear and aggression,"
afflicted with "dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity," and
wracked by "uncertainty avoidance."
the fictional faηade of this pseudo-novel stands some very
real history. The Birchers, the Randians, the libertarians
one by one they were led to the guillotine by the editors
of National Review. Welch's sin was that he saw the
Vietnam disaster long before it occurred, and thus violated
the central canon of the Cold War Right: the Randians, too,
got in the way in the way of Buckley's overriding principle:
their influence would lead the GOP down the primrose path
to "anarchic misanthropy," as one of Buckley's characters
puts it, and so they, too, were dispatched. The libertarians
were excommunicated on several occasions, and Rothbard, the
most thoroughgoing exponent of laissez-faire capitalism since
Ludwig von Mises, was excoriated as a "Leninist."
purge of dissident elements within the conservative movement
did not lead to the triumph of the Right, however, but to
the victory of "big government conservatism." "We have a responsibility
that when somebody hurts, government has got to move," said
George W. Bush on Labor Day this year. As Ramesh Ponnuru recently
pointed out in National Review, FDR couldn't have said
it better. We have, says Ponnuru, been "swallowed
by Leviathan" and so, I would argue, has the conservative
this book had been written as a memoir as it should have
been it would have been a history of the periodic purges
that shook the world of the Right in the 1960s. This story,
unencumbered by fictional devices, needs to be told. But Getting
It Right gets it wrong.
bring up all this ancient history, then? Certainly that's
a legitimate question, the answer to which is that, once again,
conservatives are being asked to throw away their support
for limited government and civil liberties in the name of
perpetual war and anyone on the Right who dissents is being
smeared as an "extremist," even "anti-American," as David
Frum, the neoconservative enforcer of political correctness,
has characterized me
and others. The smear campaign against authentic opponents
of Big Government and Empire continues, and Buckley's National
Review is its main conduit. The "Big
Government conservatives," who worship at the altar of
"national greatness," have their own politically correct version
of history. How appropriate that it should be related in the
form of a very improbable and badly-written pulp novel.
IN THE MARGIN
Horowitz is such a big crybaby. I posted a review of his new
Illusions, on Amazon, and he's wailing that it's all
a result of "left-wing sabotage." Here's Horowitz:
my new book Left Illusions came out I prepared
myself for the inevitable sabotage the political left and
its fellow-travelers would attempt in order to discourage
readers. So when Amazon posted a character assassination by
Justin Raimondo in its section reserved for reviews I was
other words: Wahhhh! Wahhhh! In his book, Radical
Son, from which excerpts are printed in this latest
compilation, Horowitz red-baits his own parents, who were
members of the Communist Party, and says they deserved to
be fired from their jobs as teachers for being "traitors."
In his non-rebuttal, Horowitz denies all but anyone who
has read Radical Son, or his latest, can easily see
that I'm right.
have never been able to quite pinpoint the psychological disorder
from which Raimondo so evidently suffers. Why would a man
who has a well-trafficked website even think to post to this
obscure section of the web simply to discourage people from
buying someone else's book. Why would he spend the time? A
google search of Raimondo's site, brings up more than 250
personal attacks on me, so that is probably a sufficient explanation.
His 'review' is titled 'Nobody Likes A Stool Pigeon' and accuses
me of 'turning in' my parents as Communists. Of course as
Raimondo and anyone else who has read Radical Son
knows, both my parents died before the book was written (I
described both deaths in the book itself)."
who points out the hypocrisy and hysteria behind his politics
is crazed, according to Horowitz this is so typical of the
neoconservative mind, which cannot even imagine honest disagreement.
Every attack on his politics is, according to him, a "personal
attack." More crybaby stuff. I don't know where he gets "more
than 250" it's
about 50, not counting duplications, and all of them are
old. This also includes an article by him on our website,
and very brief mentions of his name. So what? Why is this
relentless self-promoter complaining about that? And
Amazon.com is not exactly an "obscure section of the web,"
but we'll let that pass.
would anyone bother with Horowitz? That's a better question,
the answer to which is: why not? Sure, he's a schmuck, but
over a month is far too long to go without an
attack on me originating in Frontpage, Horowitz's website.
It used to be that every week, at least, there would be a
new attempt to prove that I'm a fascist left-wing sympathizer
of the Mikado and then, suddenly, nothing, nada, zilch!
What's up with that? I knew I just knew
this would get a rise out of him. And it did. (Bwahahahahahaha!)
can dish it out, but he sure as heck can't take it. Grow up,
David, and stop yer whinin'. There's nothing worse than a
crybaby you big sissy.
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