Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, RIP

I had also wanted to comment on John McCain, specifically in the context of his dissociation from the remarks of talk-show host Bill Cunningham. But, I will save that for the next post. The subject of this one is how National Review, the journal Buckley founded, for years listed the recent deaths of cultural luminaries, one of which he was. I subscribed to National Review as a teenager and have already commented on how both the breadth and depth of scholarly content has suffered since those days in the early to mid-seventies, when Buckley sat at the center of the operation. This is not primarily to criticize today’s publication, which is more than adequate to the standards of the time. Rather, it is to remark on the extraordinary intellectual distinction of the early manifestation. I say that, even though I assume and hope that my own analytical tools have been substantially enhanced in the intervening 30+ years.

Though my disposition on how conservative principle ought to be expressed and ought to engage contemporary culture has been somewhat modified, the news of Buckley’s death seized a sentimental nerve. Though there are publications that fancy themselves starker advocates of what they consider conservatism, which to me seem more viscerally than philosophically and historically based, it seems that the whole notion of a cultural depot for any intellectual philosophy may be well into the process of passing into oblivion. In fact, the whole idea is a phenomenon of 20th century Western pop-culture. I long ago said that dominating locales of general streams of thought would probably yield to a modern-day agora of online advocacy, with a near infinite supply of ideas and dispositional palliatives. In the 20th century, common music, film and television were part of a common “language” across the country. But, the change seems to be well under way: The era of culturally-dominant ideological outposts of information, social policy, art, and entertainment may be waning, but Buckley and National Review were certainly prominent figures of that time; my time.

This is how the old courier of New York cultural liberalism, The Village Voice commented on the death of William F. Buckley, citing an AP announcement, after its posting of an old video clip of Buckley becoming irate when in a debate, Gore Vidal called him an example of “crypto-Nazism.” I couldn’t resist commenting on it. By the way, I defend(ed) the Vietnam War, and oppose(d) as out-of-place and superfluous civil rights legislation beyond the 14th Amendment clarification that US constitutional rights apply to every human being and are not legitimately abridged within the constituent states. I don’t understand the context or substance of the “white community in the South” comment. But I do believe that the US Constitution should be the only constraint on the sovereignty of voluntary associations such as communities or The Boy Scouts, for example.

The AP on the National Review:

The National Review defended the Vietnam War, opposed civil rights legislation and once declared that "the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail." Buckley also had little use for the music of the counterculture, once calling the Beatles "so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic."

My comment:
As an old Beatles and William F. Buckley fan, I find the focus on Buckley's disdain for Beatle music to be unfortunate.

While I loved a lot of Beatle music and it was a substantial bit of the backdrop to my early life, Buckley was a studied musician and musicologist of an earlier age. While Beatle music was a common and usually upbeat cultural touchstone, it is silly to even imply that it was on an equal structural plain with earlier music compositions that transcended provincial time.

Were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison (Ringo Starr was mostly a character and relatively ordinary drummer) accomplished song composers and instrumentalists? Of course, they were. But with their bedroom/garage training and practice, could they have composed a classical symphony or even a big band standard? Probably not, else they likely would have.

In any case, this is an intellectually thin matter to focus on upon the death of a huge literary presence of the past 50 years. Regardless of your understanding or assent to what was Buckley's focus and accomplishment, this shallow approach is distracting and ungracious, to say the least.

1 comment:

Stephen R. Maloney said...

Larry, as you know I disagree with your counter-factual view that everything has gone to the dogs in the past 50 years. Some things have improved (the disappearance of the segregation and the sexism that is still practiced in certain places, including most of your evangelical churches), but some areas of life have declined. William F. Buckley and the old NR, for which I wrote occasionally, are some of the good things that are no longer with us. I've been waiting for you to comment on the bizarre behavior of your favorite candidate Mike Huckabee. However, since you've been defending the indefensible for a long time, I'm sure you still have a few rationalizations left. Mike's ego apparently knows no bounds, which is a sad discovery in a campaign that had some positives (about half as many as you assumed). I predicted long ago that his campaign would end on March 5th (at the latest) but with the bizarre Huckster one never knows. He bore false witness to his supporters by feeding them the illusion that two constitutional amendments were possible when he -- like you -- must have knowm that was untrue. He will not be missed.

ambridge, pa