Buckley Had No Problem Annoying His Donors
Geoffrey Kabaservice writes at The New Republic about the recently passed anniversary of William F. Buckley's famous condemnation and denunciation of the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement.
It is not news that Buckley had no problem being forthright about how the John Birch Society was an organization that was spreading paranoid conspiracies, but Kabaservice also notes that Buckley's good deed did not go unpunished by some of his friends, acquaintances, and most importantly, donors:
Having spent the better part of a decade doing research in Buckley’s archives, I can attest that it was no easy matter for Buckley to take on Welch and his Society. Many of the financial backers and readers of Buckley’s National Review magazine admired Welch and his organization; Buckley’s own mother was a Bircher. His editorial colleagues warned that criticizing Welch risked splitting the conservative movement. Buckley’s position as movement leader would be jeopardized by the liberal plaudits that predictably would follow his editorial condemnation of the Birchers; as Buckley put it privately, “I wish to hell I could attack them without pleasing people I can’t stand to please.”
Nonetheless, in February 1962 National Review ran a six-page editorial against Welch, arguing that he was damaging the anti-Communist cause by “distorting reality” and failing to distinguish between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectually anti-Communist liberal.” It would be several years before Buckley excommunicated all Birchers from the conservative movement, but his editorial emphasized that “There are bounds to the dictum, Anyone on the right is my ally.”
Buckley paid a price for his stand, as National Review endured torrents of angry letters and cancelled subscriptions, and the defection of some of its deep-pocketed donors. But in the long run, Buckley’s break with Welch saved conservatism. At the time Buckley wrote his editorial, the movement had been tainted by its associated with the Birch Society: In the spring of 1962, Buckley was considered such a fringe public figure that he was invited, in earnest, by Hunter College to speak in an “Out of the Mainstream” lecture series along with leaders of the Nation of Islam, the Communist Party, and the American Nazi Party. By separating conservatism from the Birchers, Buckley made his movement respectable and introduced it into the mainstream of American political life.
I am having trouble finding the original 5,000 word editorial online, but in the mean time, you can enjoy some excerpts of it from Commentary.