Thursday, May 13, 2010

David Gordon Shreds Bill Buckley's Biographer

David Gordon has a contra-review of Lee Edwards' new biography of (neo-)conservative icon and former-CIA agent, Bill Buckley, over at
Buckley, Edwards tells us, began as a follower of the libertarian Albert Jay Nock; and Nock’s disciple, Frank Chodorov, guided his early writing. (To Edwards, Nock is an "archlibertarian." Whether there is a difference between "arch" and "ultra," Edwards does not disclose.) Edwards mentions Nock’s "radical antistatism" but he tells us next to nothing about the views of Nock and his great follower. From Edwards’s account, one might imagine that Nock wished merely to curtail the New Deal. In fact, of course, Nock condemned the "political means," i.e., the State, as of its nature predatory. Edwards also ignores completely Nock’s views on foreign policy. Nock opposed militarism and interventionism and his Myth of a Guilty Nation was an early revisionist classic.

Despite Buckley’s early exposure to Nock, his fundamental premise thrust libertarianism aside. Buckley stated this premise early in his career: "[I]n his January 1952 essay in Commonweal Buckley wrote that given the ‘thus-far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union. . .we have got to accept Big Government for the duration.’" (p.53) Buckley here expressed no mere passing thought. Putting into action his belief in a crusade against Communism, he had after graduation from Yale joined the CIA for a brief period from 1950–51. Though he ostensibly left that agency, ex-CIA agents, as we shall soon see, played a major role in National Review.

Edwards mentions three other writers, besides Nock, as "seminal" influences on Buckley’s political thinking. Each of these was a determined enemy of Nock’s libertarianism. The first of these, Willmoore Kendall, taught Buckley political science at Yale. (Edwards, by the way, is probably wrong that "Kendall taught the young conservative [Buckley] to read with the close attention to the text that the political philosopher Leo Strauss advocated." [pp.34–5]. Kendall’s Straussian period came later than Buckley’s time at Yale.) Kendall rejected with scorn natural rights. Instead, he followed Rousseau: for him, the general will was the "deliberate sense of the community," in America best incarnated in Congress. He attacked John Stuart Mill on freedom of opinion and called for the imposition of a public orthodoxy. His position would have justified the Athenians in executing Socrates, an implication he readily acknowledged. It will come as no surprise that he too had been a CIA agent.
Uh, wow!

I had the privilege of listening to several of David Gordon's "book recommendation speeches" at recent Mises Circle events around the country. He manages to take something that could be dreadfully boring (talking about books he's read) and turns it into a lecture that is compelling, informative and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. He once had the entire audience in an uproar when he suggested the shortest book in the world that had unfortunately never been written would probably have been What I Like About The Welfare State, by Ayn Rand!

In person, David is much more elderly and much more frail in appearance than you might expect, but while he may, like anybody, have physically diminished over time the man is still a heavyweight at the top of his game when it comes to intellectual capability. He's something of a walking, talking encyclopedia for the history of philosophical, economic and political texts and ideas. It's hard to imagine a book or a chronological detail (take the Kendall and Strauss remark quoted above, for instance) of which he is ignorant.

I highly recommend reading the full article at, as well as browsing David Gordon's other writings at his LRC archive.

No comments:

Post a Comment