Buckley's Search


Buckley's Search

Most of the December 30 issue of National Review is allocated to a 40,000-word essay by William F. Buckley titled "In Search of Anti-Semitism." There's much that could be said on the lengthy lucubrations of the former doyen of the now-aging New Right (see Andrew Kopkind's cover article), but for now let us observe only that in his search Buckley seems to have found what he was looking for, namely (a) that charges of anti-Semitism against National Review are false, (b) anti-Semitism on the right is no more, but (c) it is a growth industry on the left.

Buckley's focus, in the words of National Review editor John O'Sullivan, is on anti-Semitism "in the limited but influential milieu" of "opinion magazines, op-ed pages, syndicated columns, television talk shows." He confines himself to four case studies, three of them on the right - Pat Buchanan, Joseph Sobran and The Dartmouth Review - and one on the left, The Nation. Hey, that's us!

His first three findings, lengthily discussed, may be summarized briefly: Buchanan is found sort of guilty of making anti-Semitic statements but kind of excused on the ground that these arose not out of "anti-Semitic impulses" but from "an iconoclastic temperament"; former NR senior editor Sobran is convicted of reckless rhetoric but also excused of being an anti-Semite at heart; The Dartmouth Review is declared innocent of putting a quote from Adolf Hitler on its masthead because it was the victim of a hoax.

As for The Nation - can you stand the suspense? - guilty of publishing an anti-Semitic article by Gore Vidal ("The Empire Lovers Strike Back," March 22, 1986). Reasonable people might disagree with Buckley's first three verdicts, but we shall note only that his treatment of his colleagues is far more on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-more-sympathetic-hand than is his handling of Vidal. Ignoring the irony factor (which he grants Sobran), he flatly states that Vidal was "genuinely and intentionally and derisively anti-Semitic by whatever definition of the term." Of course, "he spoke from the Left, which, because it enjoys a certain immunity, watches its language less closely than the Right." Then Buckley proceeds to quote a number of letters criticizing Vidal that were published in The Nation, plus examples of Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz's publicity campaign against this magazine.

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