Editor’s Note: As part of National Review Institute’s End-of-Year Appeal, NRI fellows are sharing words of wisdom and inspiration. Today, David French explains NRI’s mission as a conservative institution in our shared culture. In that spirit, we encourage you to find out more about the Institute’s Buckley Legacy Project.
Near the end of his career, one of the founders of the so-called New Right, Paul Weyrich, reflected on the modern history of conservative activism. Reviewing a period stretching from “the defeat of Robert Taft in 1952, to the nomination of Barry Goldwater, to the takeover of the Republican Party in 1994,” he argued that it is “fair to say that conservatives have learned to succeed in politics.” They learned how to get people elected.
The culture, however, was a different story entirely. America was voting Right and increasingly living Left. In Weyrich’s view, cultural changes were “simply overwelm[ing] politics.”
He’s right, of course, and it’s a gospel I preach consistently — especially when I speak to young conservatives. If you win elections but lose the culture, your ideas and values will ultimately flounder, and conservatives will find themselves occupying the rightmost-ground on constantly leftward-shifting terrain.
Earlier this month, I was explaining this reality to a small group of Princeton University conservatives. The first question I got was a good one. Why does the Left consistently win the culture? My response was immediate. Institutions. The Left captured the important cultural institutions of American life — institutions like Ivy League universities. The wisest leaders of the Right pushed back by founding our own institutions — from think tanks to advocacy groups to historically impactful publications like National Review — which are constantly under attack from the mainstream. If we want to recapture the culture, we need strong enduring institutions of our own.
National Review is one such institution. For more than 60 years, we’ve carried out the mission of our founder. We’ve lived on beyond his considerable celebrity and personal influence. William F. Buckley Jr. knew that conservatism needed a permanent voice in the culture — a voice that endures beyond and transcends any president or politician.
And that brings me to National Review Institute (NRI). I’m a senior fellow at NRI, and my mission is simple — to continue to make the legal, cultural, and religious arguments for the unalienable rights that are the foundation of our republic. The other NRI senior fellows — people like Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Andrew McCarthy — each speak into the culture in their own, invaluable ways. Through their work, National Review was, is, and will be America’s indispensable conservative publication. It’s the institution our culture needs.
So here comes the ask. Freedom isn’t free, as they say, and institutions need money to survive and thrive. So we’re asking our friends and readers to step forward and partner with us not just to keep the doors open but to move NRI forward — to add more fellows, to engage in more projects, to debate and defeat the Left even its core cultural strongholds.
You’ll be defending a culture. You’ll be building an institution. You’ll be preserving a legacy.
This year-end, add NRI to your giving list. We’re seeking to raise $250,000. Your generous support will help further the work of the Center for Unalienable Rights, which focuses many of my own efforts, or NRI on Campus, the exceptional program that has brought me to dozens of college campuses to advocate conservative values, or many other important programs that further the Buckley Legacy. Gifts are tax-deductible, and when you give, you’ll be doing more than winning an election. You’ll be defending a culture. You’ll be building an institution. You’ll be preserving a legacy. We’ve accomplished astounding things over these last 60 years, but we can’t do our work without your support. The next 60 are up to you.
Discover what others are saying about NRI and why it merits your support. Rick Brookhiser explains the benefits to the conservative movement of NRI’s Regional Fellows Program. Kevin Williamson highlights NRI’s exceptional writer-training effort, better known as the William F. Buckley Fellowship in Political Journalism. Jay Nordlinger explains how important defending and advancing the Buckley Legacy is to NRI’s mission. And Jonah Goldberg looks at the breadth of NRI’s programs.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.