(This is the afterword of The Great Purge: The Deformation of the Conservative Movement, originally published in 2014)
President John F. Kennedy is supposed to have replied, when questioned how he became a war hero: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” This is pretty much how I feel about becoming a victim of the most recent, and in some ways the most peculiar, of the purges that have periodically swept through, and ultimately killed, the American Conservative Movement ™. My time came in the late 1990s, as patriotic immigration reformers were being extirpated—in my case, from National Review—and, more importantly, from the congressional Republican party, where the consensus behind the modestly restrictionist Smith-Simpson bill, which embodied the recommendations of the bipartisan Jordan Commission, was broken up by a campaign of lies and lobbying.
Nearly 20 years later, immigration patriots have still not recovered. And, consequently, the point at which American Whites—known, for most of the nation’s history, as “Americans”—became a minority in the country they created has gone from being a hypothetical abstraction to (barring a miracle, which can happen in politics, by the way) a mathematical certainty.
I had spent virtually all of my journalistic career safely in the briar patch of financial journalism. I emerged with care, partly because the end of the Cold War appeared to have broken the Left’s grip on public discourse, partly because I naively thought our erstwhile libertarian and neoconservative allies might actually be swayed by rational argument, but most of all because my close friend John O’Sullivan had gotten editorial control of National Review.
In his 2007 American Conservative cover story, “Getting Immigration Right: How Conservatives Blocked the Open Borders Establishment,” O’Sullivan later described how he maneuvered my 1992 NR cover story, “Time To Rethink Immigration?” past the magazine’s proprietor, William F. Buckley. O’Sullivan’s account was a salutary reminder of the extreme inhibitions that had prevented even established conservative intellectuals from addressing immigration policy up to that point.
For just over five years, National Review was a venue in which, at last, the uncritical pro-immigration consensus among neoconservatives/libertarians/business lobbies/ congressional Republicans and their donors (where distinguishable) et al.—what we now call “Conservatism Inc.”—could be criticized. Then in mid-1997, effective early 1998, Buckley abruptly and secretly fired O’Sullivan as Editor. And as Wall Street Journal Editor Robert L. Bartley later gloated, the magazine promptly “stopped stridently claiming opposition to immigration as a conservative cause.”
Of course, this was irritating to me personally. I was instantly “constructively dismissed,” as labor lawyers call it, in the effeminate Buckley style—via a snailmail letter from O’Sullivan’s protégé and parricidal successor, Rich Lowry, extruding me from the magic circle of Senior Editors, although I remained as camouflage on NR’s masthead for several further years. And I knew by then that immigration was a Third Rail issue, not just for the Left but in the nominally conservative and/or business-oriented parts of the Main Stream Media, where I earned my humble living (as, indeed, it has proved to be).
But I do think Buckley’s betrayal had wider significance. As Neal Freeman later observed in an American Spectator article on the end of his 38-year membership of the NR board due to the magazine’s slavish support of the catastrophic Iraq invasion:
I thought then and I think today that if NR had opposed the invasion, it could have made a decisive difference within the conservative movement and, radiating its influence outward across the larger political community.
Similarly, I believe that, had National Review maintained over the subsequent years the immigration line that O’Sullivan and I pioneered, the Republican Party—and America—might not now be facing demographic disaster. After 1998, there was once again literally nowhere in the MSM where facts and analyses critical of Establishment immigration enthusiasm could appear.
Fortunately, the Internet came along, and we launched our immigration patriot website, VDARE.com, on Christmas Eve 1999. Since then, of course, a whole Internet-based Alternative Right has blossomed (though in terms of limiting immigration, it is probably too late).
Why did Buckley do this? My observations of him—and I knew him for 30 years—suggest ego, vanity, and jealousy were at play (these certainly contributed to his fratricidal attack on Pat Buchanan’s presidential insurgency in 1992). Buckley also was afraid of the neoconservatives, who turned out to be implacable foes of immigration patriotism, for reasons that bear more analysis, and he was deeply concerned for his social position, which was greatly enhanced by the fawning treatment he received from the GOP leadership in Washington. A cynical Wall Street friend insists that immigration enthusiasts’ money changed hands, pointing to Goldman Sachs alum Dusty Rhodes, whom Buckley, with his snobbish weakness for the wealthy, installed in a vague (probably power-balancing) role at NR. Certainly National Review subsidized Buckley’s lifestyle to a scandalous extent.
But perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think that the motive, in Buckley’s case at least, was political. He never struck me as particularly interested in politics. I doubt he had thought much about immigration before he read my 1992 cover story, as O’Sullivan describes, but I also doubt that the words of praise O’Sullivan reports were other than sincere. They just didn’t mean anything.
Significantly, National Review never actually withdrew its support for patriotic immigration reform: it just stopped talking about it, at least until after 9/11. And, in another mark of this purge’s peculiarity, Buckley made it a condition of O’Sullivan’s severance (which I am happy to say was negotiated by my lawyer) that he say he had resigned to write a book. This pretense was only dropped after Buckley’s death.
But the bottom line remains the same. William F. Buckley is incessantly credited with the “making” of the post-World War II American conservative movement. But he must also be held complicit in its breaking—and, on current form, the breaking of the American nation.
Peter Brimelow [Email him] is the editor of VDARE.com. His best-selling book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, is now available in Kindle format.