It is painful to read and see how history repeats itself.  Except in this particular circumstance, I’m not sure if history is repeating itself or if we’re simply further down the road that governments at all levels across the United States embarked upon many decades ago.  The following excerpt is from the first-edition copy of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor that I am currently reading - another treasure found in the Opitz Library at the Acton Institute.  This is a portion of the remarks Buckley delivered at the press conference at which he announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City in 1966.  Prepare for facepalm:

The Unmaking of a Mayor by William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Unmaking of a Mayor by William F. Buckley, Jr.

I shall accept the designation if it is offered to me because I continue to respect the principles of the Republican Party as they are generally understood out over the country.  But also because it has struck me as painfully clear, to judge from their public statements, that the major candidates, while agreeing that New York City is in crisis, are resolutely opposed to discussing the reasons why it is in crisis.  Their failure to do so – I speak of Mr. Lindsay, and of Mr. Wagner, and of those who compete to succeed Mr. Wagner as the Democratic candidate – is symptomatic of a political disease that rages in New York, and threatens to contaminate democratic government everywhere in the United States.  It consists in its most aggravated form, in an almost otherworldly detachment from the real situation in running for political office by concealing any significant mention of the significant public issues of the day.  To run for office under such circumstances is merely a form of personal vanity.  Yet the major candidates are correct in saying that New York is in crisis.  New York cries for the kind of attention that is not being given to it by those who coolly contrive their campaigns so as to avoid offending major voting blocs.  But to satisfy major voting blocs  in their collective capacities is not necessarily to satisfy the individual members of those voting blocs in their separate capacities.  [William F. Buckley, Jr., The Unmaking of a Mayor (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 105-106.]

Note again:  this book was published in 1966.  And yet, much of Buckley’s complaint and critique of politics is just as applicable today as it was when it was first proclaimed.  It must be noted that, largely as a result of Buckley’s efforts prior and subsequent to his Quixotic 1966 campaign, there are currently some politicians who are willing to speak frankly about the dreadful fiscal and social problems that confront our society; unfortunately, finding politicians who are willing to not only speak the truth about our problems, but also willing to act in such a way as to actually address the problems is a difficult task indeed.  Or at least it has been a problem; Obama and his willing accomplices in the Congress have pushed hard enough against common sense that the public has been roused and is demanding real action to address our debt crisis – witness the Tea Party and the upcoming mid-term elections that have all indications of being a massive wave for the Republicans.  The true test of the Tea Party, however, will come in January of 2011 and beyond.  Will the passion remain, or will the public end up being placated by half-measures from Washington that play at solving our debt crisis, but in reality do nothing substantial?  We should all sincerely hope and pray for the former; I shudder to think about the consequences of the latter.

A Warning of the End

On December 28, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

This passage from Witness gave me the chills, mostly from recognition of our current state in the U.S. today:

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.  It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him.  It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

It seems to me that one could replace “Alger Hiss” with any number of leftist social causes and issues (not the least of which would be “health care reform”) and you’ve got America circa 2009.  Frightening.

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The Child

On December 13, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

According to Whittaker Chambers (writing in Witness), in the 1930s committed American Communists were opposed to the notion of having children, seeing them as a distraction from the important work of fomenting revolution within the United States.  Chambers himself said that he”…took it for granted that children were out of the question.”

Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers

In early 1933, his wife informed him that she was pregnant.  After first assuming that an abortion would occur in order to avoid the inconvenience to the cause that a child would cause, it became clear that his wife intended to keep the baby.  Chambers goes on a bit later to describe the experience of meeting his daughter for the first time:

[my wife] was scarcely out of the anesthetic, and reeking of ether, when I sat beside her bed.  As I looked at her white, hollowed face and the deep, leaden circles under her eyes, and felt her feverish fingers, I thought: “What have I done to her?”  At that moment, I cared only for my wife and nothing at all for the child.

My wife kept urging me feebly to go and look at it  She wanted me, of course, to approve and love what had so nearly cost her life (the birth had been terrible).  I went into the hall.  Through a glass panel, I peered into the antiseptic nursery where banks of babies lay in baskets.  A nurse, with a wonderfully personal smile,  considering the miscellaneous fathers to whom she pointed out their babies, pointed out mine.  The child had been born long enough to have lost the puckered, red, natal look.  Her face was pink, and peaceful.  She was sleeping.  her long lashes lay against her cheeks.  She was beautiful.

I went back to my wife who was no longer only my wife but the mother of our child – the child we all yearn for, who, even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.

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“a torturing thought”

On December 2, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

Whittaker Chambers, from Witness, describing the effect of Stalin’s purge on communists like him:

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Since the purge, millions of men, women and children in the world have died violently.  the 20th century has put out of its mind, because it can no longer cope with the enormity of the statistic, the millions it has exterminated in its first fifty years.  Even among those millions the number killed in the Purge makes a formidable figure.  But, on a Communist, not only the numbers, but the revolutionary stature of the purgees, had a shattering impact.  To the Western world, those strange names – Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Piatkov, Rakovsky, Krylenko, Latsis, Tuchachevky, Muralov, Smirnov, Karakhan, Mrachkovsky – were merely tongue twisters.  To a Communist, they were the men who had made one of the greatest transformations in human history – the Russian Revolution.  The charge, on which they were one and all destroyed, the charge that they had betrayed their handiwork, was incredible.  They were the Communist Party.  If the charge was true, then every other Communist had given his life for a fraud.  If the charge was false, then every other Communist was giving his life for a fraud.  This was a torturing thought.  No communist could escape it.

More on Bukharin here, and his death cell letter to Stalin here.

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Witness

On November 23, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc
Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Digging through the library here at work, I happened to stumble across a 1952 first edition of Whittaker ChambersWitness.

Two faiths were on trial.  Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.  At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.  At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick  beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another.  At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts…

…On a scale personal enough to be felt by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our time – Communism and Freedom – came to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute men.

This is a real gem; I wish there was a way for me to take ownership of this particular book, but that’s unlikely.  I’m looking forward to reading it, though; that much is sure.

More:

The deeper meaning of the Soviet underground apparatus, and all the apparatuses that clustered hidden beside it, was not so much their espionage activity.  It was the fact that they were a true Fifth Column, the living evidence that henceforth in the 20th century, all wars are revolutionary wars, and are fought not only between nations, but within them.

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William F. Buckley goes to Turtle Bay

On November 16, 2009, in Culture, Politics, by marc

I picked up a copy of William F. Buckley’s United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey on a whim.  Buckley had recently passed away, and a number of books that he had in his personal stash were being sold on The Corner, and this one sounded interesting enough to take a chance on.  Buckley?  At the United Nations? The same Bill Buckley who founded National Review? His journal of the time he spent as a delegate to the UN in 1974 would have to be a riot to read.

So I ordered a copy, and within a few days I was curling up with my own sort of dog-eared copy of the book from Buckley’s personal stash, and it was a rip-roaring good read.  A short excerpt recounting Buckley’s first time speaking during the official proceedings of the UN:

I occupied the United States desk for the first time when the Third Committee’s session had already got under way.  The chairman had proposed that all seventeen items referred to the Third Committee by the General Assembly should occupy equally the attention of the committee, and the English representative now suggested that they be taken up exactly in the same order in which they fell in the General Assembly’s agenda.  But everyone knows that items taken up for consideration early in the session are given more time than those left for the end: indeed, it is a preliminary parliamentary maneuver to push off toward the end those one wants least to discuss.

Buckley's Rollicking UN Journal

Buckley's Rollicking UN Journal

Inasmuch as the chairman had made it clear, and the sense of the entire proceeding made it equally clear, that the question now to be debated was the order in which the proposals were to be discussed, not their relative merits, I found myself getting restless at the quite extraordinary lengths to which a wizened delegate sitting thirty yards across from me in the circular committee room was going on and on in expressing his opposition to giving any attention at all to item 57, which called for the creation of the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It happened that the United States position was in favor of a High Commissioner, which was one reason for resenting the speaker’s attack upon it before the subject was up for substantive debate; another reason, it seemed to me, was that so obvious an ignorance of parliamentary punctilio should be exposed very early in the adventures of the Third Committee, before people got into bad habits.  I leaned back to Guy Wiggins and asked him whether he agreed that the speaker was behaving improperly, and he said, yes, indeed he was behaving improperly, though as I thought back on it later, he seemed less surprised than I that people should behave improperly at United Nations committee meetings.  Well, I whispered, why don’t I interrupt, and ask the chairman to direct him to confine his remarks to the chronological question?  Well, he said, sure, why not?  Well — I continued in a whisper — what are the mechanics of an interruption?  he told me that I should tap my pencil on the water glass in front of me: so I did.  The chamber was visibly startled.  A Point of Order, Mr. Chairman . . . and I made it, and managed to use twice the indispensable word in the United Nations — “distinguished.”  by the time I was through, three months later, I found myself referring, at a dinner party unrelated to the United Nations, to my distinguished cocker spaniel.  The object of my pretty little demurral turned to me like the porridge-dispenser to Oliver Twist: a look of curiosity, graduating to indignation, and disdain, followed by a most copious reply, the point being that it is not possible to discuss the chronological priority without discussing the substantive priority — all of it said with relish, leavened with paternalism, and with abundant references to the length and experience of the speaker.  I had, quite by chance, in my first encounter at the UN, run into: His Excellency Jamil Baroody, the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia.

The man was a genius with the English language.  RIP.

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