I can’t resist this one. The NY Times Sunday Book Review has a review of Deborah Lipstadt’s new history of the Eichmann trial, where she takes on Hannah Arendt’s classic account. Among other things, her book reminds us of the widespread condemnation of Israel at the time, including from quarters one wouldn’t expect (at least not nowadays), for kidnapping Eichmann
Much of Western opinion, Lipstadt reminds us, was not pleased. Argentina demanded Eichmann’s repatriation, and the American establishment agreed. The Washington Post editorial page condemned Israel’s “jungle law”; The Christian Science Monitor equated Israel’s claims to those of the Nazis… Even the American Jewish Committee asked the Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to cede the prosecution to Germany or an international tribunal.
But this one in particular got me
William F. Buckley Jr. said the kidnapping was symptomatic of the Jewish “refusal to forgive.”
William Buckley, who died three years ago—and to effusive eulogies across the board, but particularly in his ideological camp—, had become a sort of elder conservative sage, universally respected as the intellectual father of postwar American conservatism. I paid little attention to Buckley over the past two decades; he was from another era and just wasn’t interesting. But when I was in my teens, back in the early ’70s, I had a fixation on him. Buckley was the right-wing intellectual devil incarnate. I loathed him and everything he stood for. In my high school library I would read issues of the National Review to get my juices flowing. And to keep them flowing, I would watch Firing Line, where I could make snide comments about the SOB, how he was a poseur and not really all that smart (so imagine my dismay when the guest was William Kunstler—it was in 1973—and Buckley ran circles around him; Kunstler was visibly nervous and allowed himself to be humiliated on Buckley’s show; I could never take him seriously after that).
One of the things I couldn’t forget about the National Review from that time was its support for the apartheid regime in South Africa, not only for Cold War reasons but because apartheid was viewed favorably on its own terms. Delving into past issues of the NR, from the 1960s, I read of its support for the Jim Crow South and the unsympathetic, if not hostile, attitude toward the civil rights movement (this of course characterized much of the American right at the time). Buckley and the NR were racist, pure and simple. And then there was the support of right-wing dictatorships, notably in Latin America (I remember clearly a NR article, from ’72 or ’73, heaping praise on the Stroessner regime in Paraguay; NR most certainly liked Somoza too…).
And now we read about Buckley’s attitude toward Jews. This should probably not be surprising, as right-wing Catholics in those days were hardly philosemites. Patrick Buchanan comes from the same religious mold and we know what he thinks about Jews. Buckley did seem to evolve on this question, as he did, in the ’90s, call out Buchanan’s judeophobia. But here’s the thing: Buckley and the National Review never apologized or accounted for their odious positions of the past—on apartheid South Africa, opposing civil rights, supporting nasty dictatorships. Many leftists over the years did mea culpas for their uncritical support of communist regimes (and for those who haven’t, I personally hold them to account). But there’s no such contrition on the right. They’re always utterly sure they’re right, even when they’re not. Maybe that’s one of their strengths, politically if not intellectually.
UPDATE: The American Renaissance website has a lengthy post dated April 12, 2012, reproducing an article it published in hard copy in September 2000, “The Decline of National Review,” by James P. Lubinskas. American Renaissance is a proponent of what it calls “race realism”—this is its raison d’être—of, entre autres, the notion that there are specific racial identities, that whites are a distinctive race and whose identity needs to be defended from race mixing, and are superior IQ-wise to the black race. The founding editor of American Renaissance is the white supremacist intellectual Jared Taylor. In his article, Lubinskas, who was an editor of American Renaissance for a time—and has shared the stage at events with David Duke and neo-Nazis—laments that the National Review no longer adheres to white supremacy such as it did from the 1950s to the 1970s. He offers numerous examples of how William Buckley Jr. and other NR writers defended the white South, credited the notion that blacks were inferior to whites, and celebrated Apartheid in South Africa. Lubinskas, who wholeheartedly approves of NR’s erstwhile Weltanschauung, closes the case on the question as to where that publication stood on the race issue.
2nd UPDATE: Lawrence University professor Bécquer Seguín has a most interesting online article in Dissent, dated September 28, 2016, on “The Spanish-Speaking William F. Buckley,” which, entre autres, delves into Buckley’s enthusiasm for the Franco dictatorship and right-wing authoritarian regimes in Latin America.