“Will the Jungle Take Over?”

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National Review, 1961

My new article, “‘Will the Jungle Take Over?” National Review and the Defense of Western Civilization in the Era of Civil Rights and African Decolonization,” is now available online from the Journal of American Studies. If you don’t have access through your institution I’m happy to email you a copy. Here’s a taste:

In the fall of 1962, William F. Buckley, Jr., intellectual dynamo of the new American right and founder of National Review magazine, was in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. As Buckley would later relate, in the town of Laurenco Marques he had to cross a river “full of crocodiles and hippos” without the benefit of a bridge. Instead, “in a spirit of easy-going chaos,” four Africans pushed a small ferry across the river using “bamboo poles.” The entire operation consumed forty-five minutes. Buckley, while emphasizing his own ineptitude in manual labor, informed his readers that he could have readily reduced the voyage to half an hour using the same tools as the four black men. Still these men persisted, day after day, in pushing their little ferry across the river in the same chaotic manner. “They simply do not use their minds,” Buckley wrote, “and do not change their ways.” For Buckley, the moral of the river-crossing tale was clear: African backwardness justified European rule on the continent. Yet much of the “West,” enthralled by abstract notions of equality, had set itself on a “suicidal” course of decolonization. Portugal, with hard-headed good sense, did not give in to this idealistic egalitarianism. Instead, it dealt with Africans “as you would treat grown-up children,” Buckley noted with satisfaction.[1]

What does this have to do with the civil rights movement? How were conservative intellectuals’ views of African decolonization and the American civil rights movement linked? When and why did National Review begin to promote scientific racism? You’ll have to read the rest to find out!

[1] William F. Buckley, “Must We Hate Portugal?” National Review, 18 Dec. 1962, 468.


Why Is There No Conservatism In The United States, Part Two


I recently asked why there isn’t conservatism in the United States and referred to the postwar American Right using the seemingly paradoxical phrase “radical conservatives.” After digging around a little bit yesterday, I came up with some intriguing connections to this train of thought.

In the first edition of National Review in 1955, William F. Buckley famously wrote that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it…”

You read this and it sounds like traditional conservatism. Looking backward, seeking to stop or at least slow down change. But in that same editorial Buckley said this:

Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.

I had not realized that as early as 1955 Buckley himself used the phrase “radical conservatives.” It’s not just the phrasing that is revealing. It’s the overt contempt for the moderate right, the disdain for the Eisenhower wing of the Republican Party. This is an insurgent outsider mentality.

A kind reader also sent me an October 1964 National Council of Churches document entirely devoted to sounding the alarm about “The Radical Right.” I need to peruse the document more, but some mainline Protestants were clearly alarmed by the new visibility of radical conservatism in the context of the Goldwater campaign.

I also came across the influential historian Richard Hofstadter’s thoughts on what he called radical “pseudo-conservatism.” In 1962, Hofstadter wrote:

The political character of this movement can be helpfully delineated by comparing it with true conservatism. The United States has not provided a receptive home for formal conservative thought or classically conservative modes of behavior. Lacking a formidable aristocratic tradition, this country has produced at best patricians rather than aristocrats, and the literature of American political experience shows how unhappy the patricians (for example, Henry Adams) have been in their American environment. Restless, mobile both geographically and socially, overwhelmingly middle-class in their aspirations, the American people have not given their loyalty to a national church or developed a traditionally oriented bar or clergy, or other institutions that have the character of national establishments. But it is revealing to observe the attitude of the extreme right wing toward those institutions that come closest here to reproducing the institutional apparatus of the aristocratic classes in other countries. Such conservative institutions as the better preparatory schools, the Ivy League colleges and universities, the Supreme Court, and the State Department–exactly those institutions that have been largely in the custodianship of the patrician or established elements in American society–have been the favorite objects of right-wing animosity.

So there you have it. I was actually just echoing Hofstadter and I didn’t know it. Well, I could have found myself in worse company. I’ll take it.

Historians: What Is This Supposed to Mean?

nr 9.11.62
National Review, September 11, 1962

While researching a (hopefully forthcoming) article about National Review’s treatment of African decolonization and the civil rights movement, I came across the cartoon above. I didn’t mention it in the article because I can’t really make sense of it.

It seems offensive, but what exactly is the message supposed to be? The immediate context around it is an article entitled, “Angola: Terrorists on the Run,” by Ronald Waring, in which he praises the Portuguese Army for its effective counterinsurgency campaign against Angolan rebels.

Waring was especially annoyed by what he saw as biased western press reports that played up Portuguese atrocities while downplaying African ones. Is that why the white figure in the cartoon is blindfolded? There’s a whole lot of weird stuff going on in this image.

The best interpretation I can come up with for this cartoon comes from the broader context of National Review’s view of African decolonization. It saw decolonization as the retreat of western civilization, a retreat enabled by naive American and European liberals who had silly notions of egalitarianism and human equality in their heads. While they prattled on about human freedom, “primitive” black Africans launched crude grasps for power that threatened to return the continent to “barbarism.” White liberals, blinded by their delusions about humanity, refused to see what was happening right in front of their eyes.

Perhaps that sensibility is what this cartoon is trying to depict. But I’d like to know what other people make of it.