- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

National Review met the world on Nov. 18, 1955, on an upbeat note. “There is, we like to think, solid reason for rejoicing,” began founder and longtime editor William F. Buckley Jr., which was just a little odd. No one, liberals and conservatives alike, could quite understand Mr. Buckley’s enthusiasm. Surely, with America’s destiny in the competent hands of social planners and international bureaucrats, conservatism was dead. What, then, is the point of a conservative journal, especially one greeting the world with a wink and a smile? Mr. Buckley appeared to concede the point, admitting “it seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it.” Nevertheless, he added, in what would become the right’s rallying cry, National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” And with that the standard was raised, the battle joined, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This week in Washington, National Review celebrated its 50th anniversary. Once more there is, we’re sure Mr. Buckley still thinks, solid reason for rejoicing. The world has changed: Communism, not conservatism, is dead or dying; the social planners, not the capitalists, have retreated to the universities; and America (not the international bureaucracies) has spread freedom throughout the globe. Of course, more needs to be done. But 50 years ago, few conservatives would have predicted the country could ever get this far. “It is idle,” Whittaker Chambers wrote to his friend, Mr. Buckley, in 1961, “to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.” Even if Chambers’ prognosis was a bit too shrouded in doom, it was still a lonely time to be a conservative. With its trademarked irreverence and schoolyard sense of mischief, National Review “crashed through,” as Mr. Buckley put it, to break the dangerous lock liberals had taken for granted and offer the “non-licensed nonconformists” (i.e. conservatives) a place to call home.

So to say that National Review had something of a monopoly on the conservative audience is true, since there was simply nothing else. It also diminishes the peculiar challenge Mr. Buckley and his staff faced — namely, just what was conservatism? On Thursday, President Bush lunched with Mr. Buckley and others to mark the occasion, during which he described this three-ring conservative circus: “[Mr. Buckley] had voices that included ex-communists who knew better than most the threat posed to America by the Soviet Union. He had voices such as free marketers who knew that markets could deliver better results than bureaucracies. He had voices from traditionalists who understood that a government of and by and for the people could not stand unless it stood on moral grounds.”

By combining these [still] feuding factions into a political philosophy with mass appeal, National Review worked to remake the Republican Party. To do this, as well as to purge the extremists, it made poking fun at liberals almost a sideshow.

With 50 years behind it, how has National Review done? Columnist and former NR editor George Will called it “the most consequential journal of opinion ever,” which is no overstatement. On the Internet, in multimillion-dollar institutes and in Washington, conservative ideas are ubiquitous. They brought Ronald Reagan to the White House, who in turn brought down the Evil Empire. It is as true today as it was in the dark days of 1955 that one’s conservative journey usually begins with National Review. May it remain so for another 50 years.

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