Getting It Right
William F. Buckley Jr.
Regnery, 2003, 310 pp. (including notes)
There is no question that the 1960s were a time of great political ferment, especially on college campuses. Given all that has been written and shown about the sixties' generation and their infatuation with left wing politics, it is easy to forget the less publicized ferment on the right during this period. The conservative ideas of smaller government, lower taxes, personal responsibility and self reliance, which are common today, are the direct result of ideas and forces that incubated on the right in the 1960s.
While conservative ideas today appear as a coherent whole they were once numerous strains of seemingly discrete ideas. Rather than trying to write a straight historical account of the various individuals and groups with their often conflicting ideas and agendas, Buckley has presented this as a novel and tells the story through the eyes of two young college graduates, Woodroe Raynor and Leonora Goldstein. However, unlike some recent television docudramas which indiscriminately blend fact and fiction and pass all of it off as the truth, Buckley clearly separates the fact and fiction and even goes so far as to provide four pages listing his sources for each chapter. With the exception of the two protagonists and a few minor supporting characters, the people, places and events in this book are true.
Raynor, a Mormon from Utah, upon graduating from high school is sent to the Austrian village of Andau on the Hungarian border in 1956 to do his obligatory year of missionary work. While there he witnesses the flood of refugees fleeing the Soviet army as it crushes that year's ill fated Hungarian uprising. Following his return to the U.S. and completing college, Raynor is hired by the newly formed John Birch Society and we get to see the rise of that organization and the anti-communist movement in general through his eyes.
Goldstein, on the other hand is raised by her widowed mother on anti-communism and self reliance. While on a ship from Gdansk , Poland to visit relatives in New York, Leonora Goldstein's parents find themselves refugees when Hitler's armies invade Poland. Shortly after her birth, Leonora's father, a longshoreman, was killed in a fight when a pro-communist faction of the union sought to take control of the local union. Introduced to the works of Ayn Rand while in college, Leonora meets Ayn Rand and is hired as a part time research assistant and file clerk.
While the defeat of communism and the restoration of self reliance became hallmarks of the modern conservative movement, groups like the John Birch Society, Ayn Rand's Collective and the like were too inward looking and their leaders too authoritarian to succeed in a free society. Woodroe and Leonora meet early in the book and their growing political maturity parallels their growing love. In the book Woodroe and Leonora distill the core values of the conservative movement but cast aside the the dogmatism and paranoia so closely associated with many of the groups on the right in the 1960s. It was this distilling of true values from the clutter of narrow and often conflicting ideas which ultimately led to the strong conservative political movement we have today.
Buckley has done a remarkable job in pulling together the various groups, individuals and strains of conservative thought in this period and presenting it as a coherent and interesting story.
This report prepared by Chuck Nugent