The Final Column

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(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...

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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...

I began writing these columns 36 years ago and have come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring them to a close. It’s certainly not a problem of lacking subject matter. It’s simply that I am 85 now, and the energy and creative juices are just not what they used to be. Anyone in that age bracket will know what I mean.

Happily, I am not ending the column with a gloomy conviction that America is heading to hell in a handbasket. On the contrary — barring all the usual problems with which I have had to deal in these paragraphs — I think the country, on the whole, is in reasonably good shape. Certainly, 36 years ago there was nothing like the panoply of conservative activities that confronts the eye today. In the 1950s, there were plenty of resolute individual conservatives but very little that could seriously be described as a conservative “movement.” In the late 1950s and 1960s, however — owing in large part to Bill Buckley and a handful of other early spokesmen — conservatives began organizing themselves institutionally. Magazines sprang up, and conservative organizations of various sorts were founded.

Beginning in the 1960s, conservatism has certainly earned the right to call itself a “movement” — indeed, along with its great rival liberalism, one of the two major contenders for political leadership of the American society. Even many Democratic politicians insist today on describing themselves as “conservative,” and the movement’s influence is both vast and manifest.

Undoubtedly, the most important single factor in the growth of conservatism has been the realization, on the part of individual conservatives, that their views were shared by others, and constituted collectively a formidable national influence. There’s a lot to be said for intellectual respectability, and conservatism today indisputably has it. Conservatives in the future will do well to remember this and deploy it in their support.

For the moment at least, the Republican Party is unquestionably the premier vehicle of the conservative movement. This is hugely important, for a political viewpoint needs an institutional vehicle just as much as a political party needs a viewpoint. Conservatism today is broadly comfortable in the Republican Party and would be extremely uneasy trying to adjust to life among the Democrats.

Thoughtful conservatives will realize that this fact makes it dangerous for them to engage in maneuvers that try to narrow the GOP’s appeal to militant conservatives only. Conservatism should be the beating heart of the Republican Party, but the party must also reach out to incorporate people who are not necessarily ideologues but are sympathetic to conservative views in a general way.

For the future, conservatives can, I think, be confident that their viewpoint will be represented in the national debate. For conservatism is essentially an analysis of social problems from the standpoint of a particular understanding of human nature. As long as that understanding continues essentially unchanged, the ways of dealing with those problems will remain basically unchanged.

What is that understanding? Conservatives believe that people are designed to pursue their own best interests, and that the job of society is to make sure that, as far as possible, the pursuit of those interests conduces to the benefit of society as a whole. Happily, it tends to do so, and this is what makes possible “the good society.”

So, I am basically an optimist for the future of the United States. Historically, its deepest roots are moral, grounded in the Anglo-American religious tradition. When we act as a nation, we tend to act in that tradition, respecting what we recognize as its obligations. The result is that our actions have generally been just and courageous. We have not always lived up to our highest ideals, but we have seldom slipped far below them. It is impossible to know what challenges will confront the United States in the years ahead, but there is reason to believe that we have within us the resources to meet and overcome them.

*****

This article originally appeared on Townhall.com on Mar 03, 2009

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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