A Small, Efficacious Helm

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.
Amongst fierce winds, the small helm of National Review Institute is the indispensable leverage point for our great principles.

Sixty-five years ago, William F. Buckley Jr. published the mission statement of National Review in which he famously promised to “Stand athwart History, yelling ‘Stop.’” We abide in a target-rich environment. Conservatives must stand athwart the materialist machine of “History” grinding inexorably, as Marx fantasized, toward statism. We stand athwart precipitous schemes of social engineering, so that our Constitution may compel a bit of cool deliberation. We stand athwart the dismissal of cultural norms and the banishment of historic artifacts until, as Chesterton advised, everyone considers why they were put there in the first place. After all, every problem appears simple until one learns a little bit about it.

National Review Institute, the nonprofit journalistic think tank WFB founded to advance the NR mission, is in the business of encouraging us all to “learn a little bit about it.” Bill noted that:

When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning.  After that, we need to inform ourselves, to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder … the glory and the frailty of our position …

We are now pressed with vivid reminders that we must stand athwart the latest manifestations of perennial dystopic fantasies: the deluded lure of socialism; the intolerance of academized self-righteousness; the juvenile inanity of “defunding” public security; the barely disguised contempt for our constitutional order. Especially, we are now reminded to stand athwart the glib exoneration — even celebration — of violence in the name of “social justice.” As Bill noted with arch understatement, “Mobs are seldom architects of civilization.”

At National Review Institute, it is just so: we stand athwart and we think through. We enable the influential work of twelve NRI Fellows and three young Journalism Fellows. We have opportunistically extended numerous programs into the virtual world and have reached many new National Review congregants. NRI’s publishing subsidiary — National Review — has built a sparkling digital platform that presents National Review content to 10 million unique visitors every month.

Notwithstanding the pandemic, NRI launched three consequential programs in 2020: (1) the William F. Buckley Jr. Communicators program directed toward students in the communication arts, (2) a fund to support long-form journalism executed by a glittering array of renowned authors, and (3) National Review Capital Matters, a grand venture to defend, explain, and celebrate capitalism.

Yes, conservatives have the best arguments: for economic freedom, limited constitutional government, and a principled, but unsentimental, foreign policy. And, we honor the timeless values of faith, highlighted this Christmas season, which assert that every one of us is a special child of God, and not merely an assembly of deterministic identity characteristics. This idea shattered tyrannies 2,000 years ago; it remains a revolutionary idea, and one still hotly contested.

But even the best arguments need the means for their propagation. Bill took the title of one of his books from James 3:4:

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Amongst fierce winds, the small helm of National Review Institute is the indispensable leverage point for our great principles: we make the case; we clarify the stakes; we promulgate; we persuade. This small helm is uniquely efficacious.

It is an honor for me to ask you to join and sustain NR Nation through a generous tax-deductible gift to National Review Institute. Your gift, and your prayers, make our endeavors possible.


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