Magazine article The World and I

P E O P L E I N T H E N E W S: Crafter of Conservatism

Magazine article The World and I

P E O P L E I N T H E N E W S: Crafter of Conservatism

Article excerpt

Conservative pioneer and philosophical traditionalist William Rusher grew up in a most untraditional family, one racked by daily conflict between his parents that was ended only by a decisive divorce.

But the pain he experienced year after year until he was 17 didn't prevent him from earning his law degree from Harvard, working as a U.S. Senate counsel, serving as publisher of National Review magazine for 31 years, and forming the group that was instrumental in securing the Republican presidential nomination for Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964 and thus launching the conservative political movement.

"I think [my parents] influenced me very profoundly," says Rusher in an interview. "I acquired from that household--I was an only child--an appreciation of how peaceful an otherwise empty apartment could be. Which may explain why I've remained a lifelong bachelor."

He says both his mother and father treated him with kindness and love, but their own disagreements were "severe and painful to have to watch."

Asked whether the divorce affected him adversely, he replies that it was in fact the marriage that was the problem and the divorce was the solution. "I was an enthusiast for the divorce," he says. "I felt these people would be happier apart. And indeed they were. Each married much more congenial spouses and had no problems of that sort thereafter."

The divorce, Rusher says, coincided with the day his parents took him from their Long Island home down to Princeton University in New Jersey to begin his freshman year. "That was the last day they ever saw each other. They had done, they felt, their duty."

But they passed on to their son their values. Rusher's father, a World War I veteran and salesman, influenced the youngster to be patriotic and to embrace a sort of business conservatism. His mother reinforced those values. Both his mom and dad were Republicans, and they communicated their political bent to young Bill.

He was politicized at age 13 through the presidential campaign of Alf Landon in 1936. "When he lost, I suffered," Rusher confesses. "That turned me into a pretty vigorous Republican."

After Princeton and a stint in the Air Force during World War II doing administrative work in the India-Burma theater's Calcutta headquarters, he went to law school and then practiced in a large firm on Wall Street for seven and a half years.

It was during his law studies that he became interested in the phenomenon of domestic communism, especially the notion of what would make an American become a communist and try to overthrow his own society.

This interest drew him, after working on Wall Street, to spend a year and a half in 1956--57 as associate counsel to the internal security subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The subcommittee, started by Sen. Pat McCarran (D- Nevada), was tasked to maintain oversight of U.S. domestic security laws, involving Rusher in the investigation of communism--though not under Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who had chaired the Government Operations Committee.

In the 1940s and early 1950s, Rusher began to read various watershed books and articles about conservatism--for example, Russell Kirk's Academic Freedom, Friedrich von Hayek's Road to Serfdom, Whittaker Chambers' Witness, and a detailed review in Time magazine of Kirk's Conservative Mind.

"So there, you see, I was subjected," Rusher says, "to all three of the tributaries of what became the conservative movement in the mid-1950s: the economic libertarianism of Hayek, the traditionalism of Kirk, and the anticommunism of Chambers."

When Rusher left the internal security subcommittee in July 1957, William Buckley invited him to become publisher of the conservative National Review. (Buckley had been both editor and publisher.)

For Rusher to accept meant leaving the practice of law. The choice was easy, however, for "it struck me as a little bit boring to fight other people's battles [as a lawyer]. …

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