When I first encountered National Review, in a school library as a teenager, there was a great deal in the magazine that I did not understand. There were disputes over the measurement of economic indicators that were entirely mysterious to me, speculation about the future of countries whose location in the world might have been generally familiar to me but no more, very finely reasoned discussions about moral problems to which I had never given a moment’s thought. Twenty-five years later, the experience of reading National Review is not entirely dissimilar. The breadth and depth of knowledge communicated through the magazine and the website is staggering to an extent that you might not appreciate unless you really tried to keep up with it all for a couple of weeks. We publish more words on the web every day — far more — than we do in a fortnight in print.
One of the great charms of the magazine for me as a young reader was that it was very enjoyable to read even if you did not quite understand everything in it. There was Bill Buckley’s charming correspondence in “Notes and Asides,” Digby Anderson on Spanish breakfasts, and all those wonderful words. I think that practically every conservative writer of my generation spent at least a semester in college trying to write like Bill before concluding that even Bill didn’t try to write like Bill: He just sort of showed up in the world that way, ex nihilo.
When I was in my senior year of high school and thinking about going to Yale — and thinking very hard about how to pay for that — I sent a letter to Bill, asking for a job. I received back a very kind reply advising me that National Review was not currently in need of my services, but to keep the magazine in mind for possible summer writing opportunities, etc. (In the event, I did not go to Yale as did William F. Buckley Jr. — I went to the University of Texas, as did his father, a fact of which I was not aware until Bill asked me if I could name the editor of the 1905 edition of the yearbook.) It was 15 years or so before I managed to start working for National Review, and I very much remember my first impression: Seated around the conference table were Rich Lowry, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and many others, with Jay Nordlinger on the speakerphone, many writers I much admired, and me thinking, “This place is kind of a dump.” People sometimes ask us for tours of the office, and we welcome them, but they’re always a little disappointed. But that’s as it should be — that’s not where we spend the money.
We have been known to buy a tuna-salad sandwich for a visiting senator, but Jack Fowler runs a remarkably tight ship. I’ve worked for big, publicly traded companies and tiny little startups, and I cannot think of any organization as conscientious about a dollar as is National Review. The reason for that is of course because we do not have very many of them. Flip through the magazine sometime or look at the website. Those corporate special interests whose alleged bankrolling of the conservative movement we’re always hearing so much liberal handwringing about are not in much evidence. And that’s how it’s probably always going to be: We are in the business of reminding people of eternal if often unpleasant truths. The liberals have their schemes for saving the salamanders or reorganizing the family or redistributing the wealth, and we are standing athwart. We are not peddling rainbows.
So, we sell subscriptions, sell advertising, organize cruises and other fundraising events, and we come to you directly to ask for your help. The plain fact is that if you want Eliana exposing IRS misdeeds or Andy keeping tabs on the many-tentacled Muslim Brotherhood or Ramesh continuing to irk me with his wrongheaded child-tax-credit campaign, we have to keep the printer paid and the servers running, which as a former newspaper editor I can tell you is just shockingly expensive. But I can also tell you that Rich Lowry flies coach.
We don’t make a profit, we make a difference. And in these days of feckless foreign policy, ruinous regulation, and creeping statism at every turn, we need National Review, if not to move Democrats in the right direction — it is a sin to despair, but, come on! — then to stiffen the spines and invigorate the minds of Republicans, especially those of the ladies and gentlemen in Washington who too often forget that the Republican party is there to further the cause of liberty, not the other way around.
It is a tremendous privilege to be associated with National Review, for which I am deeply grateful to our friends — including you, for whatever you’re able to give.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review and author of the newly published The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.