Telling the Great Story

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Rusher at 100: Realism for the 21st Century

(June 23, 2023—revised December 21, 2023) William Rusher, a dynamic force on the American right who passed away in 2011 after decades as comrade and mentor to many conservatives, was born a full century ago on July 19, 1923. His centenary comes at a hard time for...

Book Presentation: “If Not Us, Who?” by David B. Frisk

Click to watch the presentation of "If Not Us, Who?" by David Frisk to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on C-SPAN. David Frisk's book, If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, 'National Review,' and the Conservative Movement, offers a comprehensive exploration of the...

Bill’s Biography

William Rusher was an influential political strategist, commentator, and debater at the heart of the conservative movement in the second half of the twentieth century, a movement whose ascent he documented in his 1984 book The Rise of the Right -- one of many examples...

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“If Not Us, Who?”

If Not Us, Who? takes you on a journey into the life of William Rusher, a key player in shaping the modern conservative movement. Known for his long stint as the publisher of National Review, Rusher wasn't just a publisher—he was a crucial strategist and thinker in...

Modern political history offers no more astonishing story than the account of how the American conservative movement emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, in the early 1950s, trounced the regnant liberals, and established itself as the dominant political force in the United States. Professional historians have been slow to take up the task, no doubt because so many of them are liberals themselves and find the story positively painful to recount.

But in recent years the bookshelves have begun filling with accounts written by people who were themselves participants in the movement. And one that has just been published deserves the attention not only of conservatives eager to learn the origins and history of their cause, but of liberals genuinely interested to know how it all came about. The book is ” Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism” by Alfred S. Regnery (Threshold Editions), and it can be recommended unreservedly.

Regnery is the son of the late Henry Regnery, who made a career of publishing conservative books that would otherwise never have seen the light of day, and is himself the publisher of The American Spectator, a well-regarded journal of conservative opinion. He gives us a clear chronological account of the birth and growth of the conservative movement, and then supplements this with extensive descriptions of the interface between the movement and such important aspects of our culture as the law, the economy and religion, among others.

It was in the early 1950s that Lionel Trilling made his famous observation that “In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.” The observation was accurate, but on the ragged edge of obsolescence. In the mid-1950s, the late William F. Buckley Jr. assembled a varied group of conservative intellectuals under the banner of his magazine National Review and launched a full-scale counterattack on the liberals — denouncing their appetite for Big Government, calling for a return to the values of the Western Christian tradition, and demanding staunch resistance to world communism. Later in the decade, Russell Kirk launched his quarterly, Modern Age, on much the same principles, and by 1960 a whole new intellectual movement was under way.

It quickly moved into politics, and in 1964 captured the Republican Party, nominating Barry Goldwater for president. Goldwater’s subsequent defeat, far from dispiriting the movement, actually energized it. Within two years Ronald Reagan, its new spokesman, won the governorship of California by a million votes, and in 1980 and 1984 he was elected and re-elected president of the United States. In 1991 the Cold War ended in victory for the West.

This is the story that Regnery tells, but he goes well beyond its basic outlines. He highlights differences of opinion within the movement, and devotes whole chapters to important aspects of policy. One entire chapter concentrates simply on Reagan — as an anti-Communist, a movement conservative, a governor, a teacher, a politician, a president, a Cold Warrior, a supply-sider, and a revolutionary.

It is, I repeat, an astonishing story. Where are the liberals today? When did they last have a truly creative idea? Why is the very word so often avoided today, in favor of some substitute such as “progressive”?

In titling his book “Upstream,” Regnery makes the point that the success of the American conservative movement has been a battle every step of the way. There have been no easy victories. The dominant liberals of 1950 did not — as Trilling’s observation makes clear — even regard them as a threat. That was their first, and biggest, mistake

*****

This article originally appeared on Townhall.com on Mar 13, 2008

Author

  • William Rusher

    William A. Rusher, a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute, was the publisher of National Review magazine from 1957 to 1988. A prominent conservative spokesman, Rusher gained national recognition over forty years as a television and radio personality. Since 1973, his syndicated column "The Conservative Advocate" has appeared in newspapers across the U.S. He is also a prolific author and lecturer, with five books and numerous articles. His notable works include "The Making of the New Majority Party" and "The Rise of the Right." An influential political activist, Rusher was instrumental in the 1961 draft of Barry Goldwater for the 1964 Republican nomination, which reshaped the Republican Party and continued under Ronald Reagan. He graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, served in the Air Force during World War II, and worked at a major Wall Street law firm. He also served as associate counsel to the U.S. Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee before joining National Review. In 1989, Rusher became a Distinguished Fellow at the Claremont Institute, continuing to write and advise from his home in San Francisco. He remains active on various boards, including the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, National Review Inc., and the Media Research Center.

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