Rise of the Conservative Movement | From Buckley to Goldwater
In this episode, we discuss the rise during the 1950s and 1960s of a new movement in Republican politics, on which would ultimately claim the heart of the party—the conservative movement.
By the 1950s, the old right faction of Senator Bob Taft was fading from relevance. The Republican Party was now firmly in the hands of its establishment faction of Eisenhower, Dewey, and Rockefeller. The party believed it had no choice but to accept the New Deal consensus as now simply the American consensus.
Then a young man came onto the scene determined to, as he would put it, stand athwart history yelling stop. That man was William F. Buckley, Jr., and he would soon build a movement that would ultimately remake the leadership of the Republican Party.
This episode explains the rise of Buckley new conservative movement from his founding of a tiny political magazine called National Review. Buckley would collect there a strange menagerie of writers and thinkers—from traditionalists like Russell Kirk, to former communists like Whittaker Chambers, to libertarians like the follower of Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, to religious conservatives like Brent Bozell. Buckley would seek to forge this squabbling group of thinkers into one united movement around one united philosophy.
That task fell to another former communists at National Review, Frank Meyer. Meyer would develop a new philosophy that sought to unite all the different groups who opposed the New Deal consensus, from traditionalists to libertarians, that he called fusion conservatism or simply fusionism. Fusionism became the new philosophy of National Review, and through it Buckley’s growing conservative movement.
After uniting these New Deal opponents around his new philosophy, convincing them that they weren’t simply uneasy allies in a temporary alliance but in fact factions of one united movement, Buckley and his group decided to launch their ideas into practical politics. They sought a seat at the table of a Republican Party holding them at arms length. So they decided to find a candidate to run for president.
They decided on Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Buckley and his movement would create a committee to draft Goldwater into a race he wasn’t even intending to run. They would inflate a bubble around his candidacy. They would supply him with his ideas, the fusion ideas of National Review. They would energize an army of young Baby Boomers to support him. They ultimately would engineer his nomination for president.
Goldwater of course lost that race in 1964, and the old establishment would temporarily reclaim leadership of the party, but the Republican Party had been permanently changed.
And just in time, because America was about to turn its attention away from the pragmatic politics of the early twentieth century towards a new politics of moral and social reform as America was about to enter the tumultuous politics of the 1960s and 1970s.
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