Bill Buckley had the answer to the vital question, where would this movement be but for NR’s readers?
Tucked away in the files is an early 1990s memo from Bill to National Review’s directors discussing the corporation. I am reminded of this now, as we approach the midpoint of our March webathon — which seeks to raise $250,000 (if at all possible, more) to offset costs and especially to help fund our free-speech legal fight (now in year eight!) against Michael Mann.
In the memo, Bill spent some paragraphs putting his ownership into perspective, almost spiritually. He said he believed he owned NR’s voting shares (he did — all of them!) in behalf of the magazine’s supporters. His rationale was simple: Had our readers not, year after year, kept the flame lit, there would have been no National Review to own.
Bill wasn’t alone in this view, and why should he have been? The facts, after all, are the facts. Indisputable. And scary, as Bill Rusher explained in his 1984 history, The Rise of the Right: A very young NR might have never seen its fifth anniversary (we just celebrated our 65th).
The excerpt is a tad lengthy, but it’s a good read, and if you enjoy NR history, well, this will get you all hot and bothered:
Unfortunately, though, my early years at National Review coincided with deepening financial problems that threatened to destroy the publication. The projected advertising revenues failed to materialize. For a time various individual members of the Buckley family chipped in with what one of them bravely called “fives and tens” (thousand dollars, that is); but in point of fact, the collective family fortune was simply not capable of sustaining indefinitely a magazine that was already losing $100,000 a year. Sales of stock and debentures to “investors” willing to take the predictable capital loss continued to bring in a certain amount of income for a while, but we were soon running afoul of the blue-sky laws of the individual states, which are understandably harsh on money-losing corporations that try to sell securities to their citizens.
In desperation, Buckley turned in 1958 directly to the subscribers. In a long personal letter to each of them, he outlined what we hoped for National Review and sketched the financial problems that were threatening its life. In conclusion, he asked for their financial support, suggesting a contribution of $100, over and above the subscription price. Then we sat back and waited — and watched with growing joy and relief as a bar graph set up in the central editorial room of the office inched upward toward our goal. National Review’s subscribers had pulled us through — as they have continued to do in every succeeding year, ever since.
National Review has long since ceased to be apologetic about this annual need for a “fund appeal.” A journal of opinion (as I patiently explained to the many free-enterprise enthusiasts who wrote every year to tell us that we ought to stop begging and sink or swim on straight market principles) is not a commercial venture at all and therefore cannot be judged purely in terms of its survivability in a free market. It exists to expound a point of view and to persist in doing so whether or not that viewpoint is popular or commercially self-sustaining. In this respect it resembles a church, or a university, or a political party; and indeed, a journal of opinion partakes, to some degree, of the nature of all three.
No wonder, then, that it is a historical fact that no journal of opinion in American history has ever made a profit, or so much as broken even, over any significant period of time. Every one of them has found it necessary to develop some kind of external subvention, and the really remarkable thing about National Review is that it is the only such publication to base its survival on so broad a numerical base of supporters. There are several thousand people in the United States who have contributed substantial sums of money — $100 or more — to National Review, not once but repeatedly, in some cases over a period of many years. At the other end of the financial spectrum is an extremely small handful of wealthy individuals whose contributions have reached five figures; and the largest gift ever made to the magazine at a single time was the bequest, by will, of a section of Kansas farmland that we sold in the early 1960s for $34,000. National Review’s survival, then, is directly traceable to the support of several thousand people whose confidence in it never wavered. All honor to them.
You can still connect those dots to 2021. Also still as true today as a generation ago is Mr. Rusher’s brief, heartfelt conclusion: All honor to them.
May we include you in them? You in . . . us? We ask, especially if you’ve yet to lend this cause that is NR a show of selfless support. True, we have no claim on your generosity, and true, you have no obligation to us. Not a shred, not a jot or tittle or micron. Nada.
But . . . we’d like to think you get it.
We’d like to think that you believe the world is a better place for there being NR.
We’d like to think that you believe the world would be a far worse place without NR.
We’d like to think at this time, especially, when sane analysis is at a premium, that NR needs to be like one of those fabled saints, bilocating — in both the public square arguing fiercely and freely as well as at the front lines ferociously fighting the Cancel Culture Stalinists, the Woke Jacobins, and the 1619 Malarkeyists, all of them intent on stampeding our culture, erasing our biology, and shredding our Founding and institutions.
With your help, we’ll be fully supplied, with ample ammo at arm’s length.
Our webathon goal is $250,000. The deadline is March 29. Frankly, we need to raise twice that amount of support, and twice again. Maybe the original goal — praise God, we are more than halfway to it, thanks to the nearly 1,200 good souls who have responded to our appeal in the past week — was unreachable. Please prove that wrong. Maybe even play a part in proving that figure surpassable.
If you agree to all above, and if the Buckley/Rusher spirit touches you, and if you concede that yep, it may be your time to buy a round, you will find you can help NR easily and securely by donating here. Do that knowing we contend no contribution is too small, and none is too grand, and anything donated will see to the defense of our principles and the defeat of their enemies.
Please let it happen, that you become us. While the foes of liberty cringe at the thought, we happily anticipate and await your camaraderie.
All honor to you!
If you would like to make a donation to National Review by check, please make yours payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036.