This letter from Bill Buckley, dated February 4, 2004, was sent to the friends of National Review, appealing for financial help to keep the principal voice of conservatism strong (and operating). We share it with you today, a little more than three year’s since Bill’s passing, in hopes that our founder’s words might inspire you to help the institution that is central and vital to conservatism.
[H]ere we are at NR, as we have been every January of every year, broke. The usual indices are fine, circulation is even up, and production costs are stable, but our deficit is greater than it has been for many years, and we know why. Advertising revenue is devastatingly down. It’s going to come back up, and we weren’t hit as hard as some others (Forbes, fifty per cent loss in advertising!). Our total loss for the year was nearly one million dollars, double what it was the year before. What happens when such news comes in? We ask Dr. Dean for a prescription?
No, what happens is I write to you. And you come one more time, we pray, to help the magazine that is everywhere conceded to have been critical to the postwar formation of a polity which has been critical to the growth and safety of America. National Review has been there, every other week, for almost fifty years, to dispel the clouds of unreason and skepticism and to stimulate the special idealism that animates America.
You have heard me tell it before, but I do so again in part because I need to remind myself of what it is that we have always sought to do. In the years after the war, there was doubt in the land, in the thinking quarters in particular, about whether we had run out on our special license on history. The Soviet Union, never mind fifteen million dead in the war and another fifteen million dead or dying in Gulag, was unswervable in its determination to bring Communism to that much of the world still free of it. These were the years when China overthrew its republic in the name of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse-tung. The massive Soviet presence overwhelmed Eastern Europe, and the dark decades set in. It didn’t matter that the Soviet Union was impoverished and its people in chains. The leadership called for expansion, entered the nuclear age, and threw down successive challenges, in Greece and Berlin, Korea and Vietnam.
In Great Britain, a socialist government threw out Winston Churchill, and for a decade the survival of democratic government in Italy and in France depended substantially on American grit. There was a showdown almost immediately ahead, when the Soviet Union brought nuclear missiles to Cuba and threatened the whole of America.
We fought and we won. And we did this as a free people, which meant that we had to think our way through to the desirability of victory and the acceptability of corresponding sacrifices. We spent in fifty years trillions on defense, and lost thousands of lives in Korea and Vietnam. It was by no means assured that right thinking would be done and acted upon. There were men and women in political life, and prominent in academic circles, who were prepared to believe that the voice of state socialism was that of the future, and that we needed to make such concessions as were necessary to make way for history.
At the beginning of the postwar period, unbelievable as it may seem, there was no journal of opinion being published in America which took on the challenges at every level: the economic delusions of socialism, the geopolitical wrong headedness of concession after concession, the attacks on our cultural deposits of freedom of action and expression and our spiritual tradition. These challenges we undertook to meet. We didn’t do this by publishing fortnightly distillations of the Federalist Papers. We needed a journal that would instruct, yes, and inform, yes, but also entertain, intrigue. Dollops of truths, no matter how enduring, will not seize the restless imagination. That happens with the deployment of the journalist’s special arts. We did this by bringing together writers whose thought and spirit and eloquence brightened the night. There was the special elation brought on by the collapse of Soviet imperialism and the discrediting of dogmatic socialism. NR was there, month after month, year after year, but we couldn’t have done it without your help. A million dollars is a ton of money in our little world — I mean, in the world of the men and women who produce the magazine which, with its circulation, is foremost among U.S. opinion journals. In other contexts, a million dollars isn’t that noticeable. It would buy you about one half of one modern torpedo, and would pay the freight of our national deficit for approximately 27 seconds. For us, it is life and death.
* * *
I am nearing the end of my tour of duty. Next year, National Review will mark the 50th anniversary of its birth and, incidentally, my 80th year on earth. I don’t intend to do anything so tidy as simply perish, when that year comes around. Yet if that should happen, my departure would not affect the health or the vision of the magazine. It will certainly survive–because its ideas are imperishable. The editorial management of the magazine is in the hands of the next generation and I know you are as proud as I am of the journal being produced. I say that I know this, that National Review will survive, because you have so many times voted your approval with your feet, to use the economists’ elegant formulation, by sending a contribution, and redeclaring our solidarity, yours and mine, in the endless struggle to maintain standards, inspire talent, and preserve our liberty.
Wm. F. Buckley Jr.