Getting It Wrong: With His Latest Novel, William F. Buckley Continues His Effort to Rewrite History to His Liking, This Time Targeting the John Birch Society. (Conservatism)
Grigg, William Norman, The New American
Sliders, a mid-1990s science fiction TV series, was built on a mildly provocative premise: What if the reality we inhabit branches off into myriad alternative universes? Each would involve a recognizable version of our present world, but as a result of small but critical developments sometime in the past, each alternate reality would differ from the others.
In some cases, the variations were subtle; in others, they were quite dramatic. But in every case the resulting alternate reality shaped up in some way as a caricature of reality as we presently experience it. Getting It Right, William F. Buckley's most recent novel, presents a Sliders-style depiction of the postwar American conservative movement, particularly that involving the John Birch Society (JBS). In this case, the small but critical distortions of history that created the novel's alternate reality resulted from the author's dishonesty, rather than from some kind of random anomaly in the space-time continuum.
Buckley weaves authentic historical events and characters into a fictional narrative focusing on two young characters-Woodroe Raynor, who joins the JBS shortly after its 1958 founding; and Leonora Goldstein, who enlists in Ayn Rand's Objectivist movement. The personal experiences of Raynor and Goldstein are meant to illustrate the supposedly dangerous trends within the conservative movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The novel's climax depicts the "final renunciation of the John Birch Society under Robert Welch," led by Buckley's National Review magazine.
Buckley clearly intends his little novel to be read as authentic history. Indeed, he enlisted historian Sam Tanenhaus to provide a cover blurb pronouncing Getting It Right "a major contribution to the historiography of postwar American conservatism," particularly the "crisis" triggered by the emergence of "two symmetrical extremist forces depicted vividly here in the characters of Robert Welch and Ayn Rand." According to Tanenhaus, the "unintended interlocking collaboration" between the JBS and Rand-inspired libertarianism "looked for a time as if it might pitch the Right into permanent oblivion; instead the crisis was met and mastered into a mature, nuanced conservative movement."
The true hero of Buckley's novel, accordingly, is Buckley himself, who makes several brief appearances therein.
Getting It Right is the most recent in a series of historical novels by Buckley that began with 1999's The Redhunter, a pseudobiography of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The next year Buckley published Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton, and last year brought Nuremberg: The Reckoning. Each of these volumes has added critical details to Buckley's Sliders-style alternate reality.
Although he began his public career defending Senator McCarthy, Buckley used Redhunter to defame the senator and misrepresent the historical facts about his investigations. *
James Angleton, the target in Spytime, headed the CIA's counterintelligence division until he was forced to retire in 1974. Angleton had enraged the Establishment by advocating the views of Soviet KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn. After defecting in 1961, Golitsyn warned that the Soviets had insinuated moles into strategic positions in Western intelligence agencies and were engaged in a long-term campaign of "strategic deception" against the West.
In the early 1980s, Golitsyn made a series of uncanny predictions about the advent of Perestroika and subsequent developments in the Soviet Bloc, nearly all of which have come true. The cases of CIA counterintelligence operative Aldrich Ames and FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hannsen--both of whom were caught spying for the Soviets--further validated Golitsyn's reliability.
In the mid-1970s, Buckley--a "former" CIA operative trained in "deep cover" operations--was approached by Angleton and asked to ghostwrite a book on behalf of Golitsyn. …