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‘The Economic Comeuppance’


In today’s Impromptus, I link to a review published in 1959. I’d like to discuss it a second here in the Corner. The review, appearing in the New York Times, is of WFB’s Up from Liberalism. The reviewer is Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — who is stylish here, as Bill would have been the first to acknowledge. Indeed, he probably was.

“At the start,” writes Schlesinger, “‘Up from Liberalism’ sounds like the old Bill Buckley.” WFB, incidentally, was 33 at this time. But, says Schlesinger, a new, less brash, more hesitant Buckley is soon evident.

The meat of the book comes in the effort to salvage conservatism. Here one suddenly begins to wonder what has happened to the old confident Buckley, for whom life seemed so simple in “God and Man at Yale.” The amazing bout of soul-searching over the social security program in this new book is symptomatic. Mr. Buckley carefully analyzes the standard conservative arguments against social security and finds nearly all of them unconvincing. Thus, concerning the argument that the welfare state will bankrupt the country: “Our insistence that the economic comeuppance is just around the corner (not this corner, that one. No, not that one, that one over there . . .) has lost to conservatism public confidence in its economic expertise.”

Okay, Professor Schlesinger. But surely that corner is good and turned by now!

The Times, to its credit, published a passage from Up from Liberalism — a passage that proved one of the best known WFB ever wrote:

I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free.


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