Morituri(Reprinted from the issue of June 8, 2006)
In 1993 I was fired from National Review for a column Id written for The Wanderer criticizing Bill Buckley, whod been my boss and my dear friend for 21 years. It was painful for both of us, but things had reached the breaking point.
Now comes the awful news that Bill, at 80, has been diagnosed with emphysema and recently spent two weeks being treated for it at the Mayo Clinic; by a bitter coincidence, one of his sisters is dying of the same ailment, which is of course both agonizing and incurable.
Ive written, maybe too much, about our political differences, but one could never write too much about what a lovable man Bill is. It would take a long book to detail his quiet acts of charity, if there were any way of finding them all out. Ive been the beneficiary of my share of them, and Ive accidentally learned of many others, and I dont doubt that all these are only a small fraction of the sum.
His career as a political journalist is almost incidental to his life; you dont really know him until you know his burning love of Jesus.
I once learned by chance that Bill had supported the great libertarian Frank Chodorov in his last years, when the sweet little old man had been all but forgotten by the rest of the world. That was typical. Bill wasnt one to preach compassion; he lived it. He couldnt bear to see a friend suffer.
One night in London many years ago, an old friend since his Yale days told me how Bill had stayed with him to console him when his six-year-old daughter was dying of brain cancer. Such inexpressible grief is frightening to most of us; we feel helpless to relieve it, and we can hardly bear to face it. But when Bill couldnt give you anything else, he gave you himself.
He was endearing in countless little ways too. His warmth and humor kept the office of National Review a happy place to work. When he returned from his annual winter stay in Switzerland, he brought little gifts for the women on the staff. Best of all, he brought the delight of his own great presence. The place lit up with joy. Bill was home! It was spring!
Bill loved to laugh, and he loved to make us laugh, with special affectionate jokes for each of us. When I became a syndicated columnist in 1979, he let me know, in a typically witty way, that he was proud of me. He sent me a clipping from a newspaper announcing that it was dropping his column and picking up mine instead! With the clipping he sent a note: Morituri te salutamus. We who are about to die salute you.
I wouldnt call Bill guileless, but he could be naive. I think his big mistake was to welcome the neoconservatives into the house of conservatism. Some of them were decent people; but others were blackmailers and smear artists, and these in effect had a knife in his ribs. They respected nothing, let alone a friendship. One of them boasted that hed gotten Buckley to shut me up. Today, alas, the neocons and their allies control National Review.
But I dont want to dwell on all that. Now Bill and I are both old men, looking at the end. It seems fitting to close with a joke:
Morituri te salutamus, Bill.
Let Em Crumble
Peter Beinart of The New Republic is an astute young liberal, worth reading even when you disagree with him. Im pleased to see he has had second thoughts about the Iraq war, which he originally favored. Writing in Time, he draws a wise parallel with the Cold War.
Conservative Cold Warriors used to argue that time was running out for the United States and urged aggressive action against the Soviet Union before it was too late. This was the position of James Burnham, whom I knew at National Review, and whose memory Ill always revere. But liberal Cold Warriors, such as George Kennan, argued for a strategy of containment, confident that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse. Communism would never work in the long run, because it was held together by raw force.
Fortunately, says Beinart, Kennans view prevailed and he was proved right well before he died last year at the age of 100. Preventive (or pre-emptive) war turned out to be unnecessary. In the same way, Beinart goes on, Saddam Hussein could have been contained without a disastrous invasion, and so can the mullahs of Iran.
Time is not on our side, President Bush warned before attacking Baghdad, summoning visions of mushroom clouds. Actually, it was; in a sense it always is. Given time, every regime will falter, lose focus, and come to confusion, as Bushs own administration has.
Id call this a conservative insight, but when it comes to war, liberals seem to grasp it better than conservatives do. In Beinarts words, Let your enemies crumble.
If only liberals took this patient approach to other problems! Poverty was naturally drying up until they declared war on it.
The Delusion of Control
There are many events in the womb of time, which will be delivered, says Shakespeare. I think of those words whenever I recall Francis Fukuyamas optimistic declaration that we had arrived at the end of history. Communism had fallen, and liberal democracy was the universal destiny of mankind. History had not only ended, but ended happily.
Only a decade ago this seemed plausible; now it sounds mad, the expression of a blind hubris. War, mass immigration, global warming real and alleged emergencies threaten us, and who knows what others lie ahead?
Hurricane Katrina was only an especially vivid reminder that man can never really control events. In fact, his very attempts to control them, especially through government, only aggravate the chaos.
Nevertheless, we seem unable to give up those attempts. The delusion of mans omnipotence dies very hard, no matter how often it is exposed. A generation ago the West felt threatened by a population bomb that would soon have us all starving unless we our governments, that is acted decisively; contraception became not a sin but a duty.
Today, as a result, the white race is dying off while others multiply. When will we learn?
A country is in real trouble when even its conservatives have forgotten the past.
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|Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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