If No Us, Who: William Rusher, National Review, And The Conservative Movement, by David B. Frisk
I must admit that I had never heard of the subject of this book before reading it. National Review had a good reputation as being a cerebral and intelligent conservative magazine, but most of the fame for that particular organization went to William Buckley, who I had heard about but do not consider myself extremely familiar with. William Rusher himself serves as an interesting figure within the Conservative movement, someone who had encouraged Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and someone whose interest in conservative purity showed him to have the quixotic sense that many self-professed conservatives have had in recent years of abandoning the Republican party or at least threatening or posturing himself to do so because it was not conservative enough for his purist tastes. Intriguingly enough, this was the case just before the Reagan revolution made the Republican party much more conservative, at which point the subject’s third party efforts magically stopped, even if he was not always a fan of those who were standard bearers of the Republican party. It is fortunate the book does not paint the subject as some sort of prophet, but rather someone whose writing and political advocacy was meant to bring a solid conservative perspective to power within the Republican Party as well to build a bridge between more elite conservatives like him and the rural populists upon whom conservative electoral victories have depended.
This book is eighteen chapters and more than 400 pages long, and it gives a detailed discussion of a life that might seem to some to lack a lot of incident given that the writer was involved in conservative journalism as the publisher of a niche magazine for highbrow and middlebrow conservatives. The book begins with an introduction that claims Rusher is the most underrated major conservative leader. After that the author goes back to discuss the childhood of Rusher (1), his life as a young Republican in college and as a lawyer (2), and his early job of investigating communism (3). This led to his job as a longtime publisher for the National Review (4), where he served as a speaker, debater, advocate, mentor (5), and as an insurgent within the Republican party (6) supporting conservative causes, including encouraging Goldwater to run in 1964 (7). After that there is a look at the conservative message he helped to promote (8), his ambivalence about Nixon and fondness for Reagan (9, 10), and his attempts to run right (11), deal with doubt (12), and even try to start a conservative party as an alternative to Ford and Rockefeller in 1976 (13). After that there is a look at his commentaries during the Carter year (14), his friendship with Reagan (15), his role as an elder statesman among conservatives (16), his retirement (17), his life in San Francisco (18) until his death, and then a look at his confidence that the truth would prevail in a conclusion, followed by some concluding notes, acknowledgements, and an index.
One of the most fascinating aspects of William Rusher is what he represents as a conservative. As someone who spent his life living in cities like New York City, Washington DC, and San Francisco, he is by no means a rural populist or a traditionalist. He never married, never learned how to drive, was a political animal despite lacking any skill in winning political office for himself and only had modest skills in helping others to win. What he did do, and did well, was helping to marshal the intellectual arguments for conservatism in such a way that he encouraged and helped others who were able to bring practical benefits to conservatism. Even if the author is someone I cannot identify with very closely, given his elite background and his fondness for big cities and his lack of the common touch, he certainly comes off as someone worth respecting, someone with a genuine intellectual conservatism, and someone who was willing to oppose the Rockefeller Republicans who supported big business and liberal causes and help to encourage more genuine Republicans who are worth getting behind, and that has to count for something, even if he’s not someone who ended up attracting a lot of personal fame.