The Conservative Civil War

Here's a broadside against the current National Review, from the perspective of one who remembers the old days of Buckley conservatism — a place where conversation was as common as lecturing, where questions were as welcome as answers, where idiosyncrasy and intellectual curiosity were treasures, not threats to some smelly series of orthodoxies. Money quote:

[F]or all his gifts of insight and expression, not to mention his hierarchical dominance, Bill [Buckley] was always factually hungry and intellectually humble. He rarely imposed his view at the outset of discussion, preferring to hear from others before refining and declaring his own position. In the dialectic of the magazine, he rarely advanced thesis or counterposed antithesis. His natural mode was synthesis. That is, while he may have been uncomfortable watching James Burnham and Frank Meyer batter each other — and their showdowns in my own staff days could turn into draining Borg-McEnroe five-setters — he was happy to learn from them.

As the dinners evolved, then, they were rarely the occasion for issuing encyclicals in matters of conservative faith and almost always a convocation of the likeminded in pursuit of fresh doctrine. [My italics]

The author — a longtime NR alum and board member — opposed the Iraq war on the grounds of insufficient evidence of WMDs. I didn't. I was part of the groupthink problem back then and too susceptible, in the wake of 9/11, to putting skepticism aside. Which brings to mind another sentence in the piece:

From time to time I have reminded NR editors that conservatism means that it's never too late to say you're sorry.

Sorry again. But the war against Islamist terror is real. And saying sorry for past misjudgments doesn't mean denying the real danger that still exists, or being excused from coming up with new ideas and strategies for victory.

(My own contribution to the debate about the meaning of conservatism can be pre-ordered here.)