This magazine was founded 65 years ago to protest — no, to overthrow — a stultifying liberal consensus that viewed history as a train and itself as the destination. The universities, the newspapers and the networks, the Democratic Party and much of the Republican Party were united in believing that centralized rule by benevolent experts was our inevitable fate.
We won. Not on our own: We had many allies, including reality, which proved much less amenable to social engineering than our mid-century ruling class imagined. Liberalism is no longer a confident consensus, even if it is more eager than ever to stultify. We have a real, if imperfect, two-party politics. The Constitution — its words and its underlying philosophy — are more central to our legal and political debates than they were then. The Soviet Union, which the forward thinkers of 1955 told us had to be accommodated as a fact of life rather than defeated, is no more.
We didn’t win completely. Too much of our founding statement speaks to our day as well as its own. “The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so.” If we were writing that afresh, we would merely need to find a place to stick “woke” and mention journalism and social media, too. The growth of centralized government we decried has slowed but not reversed. Yesterday’s historicism has a faint and tinny echo in the boasts of today’s Left that the future still belongs to it. Our reference to the need for a “responsible dissent from the Liberal orthodoxy” implied a danger that has not disappeared. We have sometimes erred, have sometimes faltered, and still have much to do.
But conservatism begins in gratitude for all the blessings we can have done nothing to deserve. We are grateful to many: to the Founders whose political bequest we seek to conserve; to William F. Buckley Jr., for his enduring achievements; to writers and editors departed and living; and to the readers and benefactors who have kept us going all these years. We are richer, freer, and safer for all of their labors. As we said at our outset: “There is, we like to think, solid reason for rejoicing.”