National Review (NR) is a biweekly magazine and web site, founded by the late author William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1955 and based in New York City. It describes itself as "America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for Republican/conservative news, commentary, and opinion. It is usually considered the center of intellectual activity for the American Conservative movement in the twentieth century. While the print version of the magazine is available online to subscribers, the web site's free content is essentially a separate publication.
At the time several major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, The American Mercury and Reader's Digest were generally conservative and anti-communist, as were a number of newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and St Louis Globe-Democrat. Also, Human Events and The Freeman preceded National Review in developing cold war conservatism in the 1950s.
During the Eisenhower years, many American intellectuals considered President Calvin Coolidge and the laissez-faire economics philosophy he was perceived to have practiced preceding the The Great Depression anachronistic. After Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932, they believed that the country had tilted permanently leftward — and soon turned to government to solve the country's socio-economic problems. As the Democratic Party gained control of the political landscape, the Republicans assumed the role of an almost-permanent contrarian minority.
Anti-FDR forces, known today as the Old Right, had sprouted up to oppose the New Deal. This group included traditionalists (followers of T. S. Eliot and George Santayana), monarchists (Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn), traditionalist southern agrarians (Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, Richard Weaver), libertarians (H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov), the Objectivist Ayn Rand, and anti-interventionists (John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, Robert R. McCormick). This group influenced both the early National Review and modern paleoconservatism, which emerged in the 1980s in opposition to neoconservatism.
The Republican party had effectively marginalized its remaining conservative members by the 1950s. Although a few Republican statesmen such as Senator Robert Taft of Ohio maintained a rear-guard action against the growth of the state during Roosevelt's New Deal, the party was firmly in the camp of its relatively liberal and pro-government Eastern establishment. The moderates in 1952 nominated Dwight D. Eisenhower over Taft for the presidency, a popular centrist Republican who publicly supported most of the New Deal. Eisenhower won in 1952, and with the death of Senator Taft, conservatism in America was left with few identifiable leaders.
In 1953, Russell Kirk published The Conservative Mind, which sought to trace an intellectual bloodline from Edmund Burke to the Old Right in the early 1950s. This challenged the popular notion that no coherent conservative tradition existed in the United States. A young William F. Buckley, Jr. was greatly influenced by it. The influence of Kirk remains key to National Review's longterm distaste for Neo-Conservatives.
Two years before, Buckley published God and Man at Yale, criticizing his alma mater for its abandonment of its founding principles. Buckley, a Skull and Bones secret society member, champion debater and former editor of The Yale Daily News, soon rose to national prominence. After a short stint in the CIA, he toured the country debating for The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI), contributed to The American Mercury, and soon decided to start his own magazine.
Buckley first tried to purchase Human Events, but was turned down. He then met Willi Schlamm, the ex-communist editor of The Freeman; they would spend the next two years raising the $300,000 necessary to start their own weekly magazine, originally to be called National Weekly. (A magazine holding the copyright to the name prompted the change to National Review.) The statement of intentions read:
Middle-of-the-Road, qua Middle of the Road, is politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant. We shall recommend policies for the simple reason that we consider them right (rather than “non-controversial”); and we consider them right because they are based on principles we deem right (rather than on popularity polls)...The New Deal revolution, for instance, could hardly have happened save for the cumulative impact of The Nation and The New Republic, and a few other publications, on several American college generations during the twenties and thirties.
On November 19th, 1955, Buckley’s magazine would take shape. Buckley assembled an eclectic group of writers: traditionalists, Catholic intellectuals, libertarians and ex-communists. They included: Russell Kirk (the traditionalist admirer of Burke and author of The Conservative Mind), ex-Marxists James Burnham, Frank Meyer, and Willmoore Kendall, L. Brent Bozell, and Gary Wills. Whittaker Chambers, the Communist-party defector and former Time editor who had given the key congressional testimony against Alger Hiss in the latter's espionage hearing, was also invited to join. Chambers initially declined, but eventually became a senior editor. In the magazine’s founding statement Buckley wrote:
Let’s Face it: Unlike Vienna, it seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it. The launching of a conservative weekly journal of opinion in a country widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather like publishing a royalist weekly within the walls of Buckingham Palace. It is not that of course; if National Review is superfluous, it is so for very different reasons: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.
National Review aimed to make conservative ideas respectable, in an age when the dominant view of conservative thought was expressed by Lionel Trilling in 1950:
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 nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation... the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not... express themselves in ideas but only... in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.
Mr. Buckley's first great achievement was to purge the American right of its kooks. He marginalized the anti-Semites, the John Birchers, the nativists and their sort.Buckley and Frank Meyer also promoted the idea of fusionism, whereby different schools of conservatives, including libertarians, would work together to combat what were seen as their common opponents.
National Review promoted Barry Goldwater heavily during the early 1960s. Buckley and others involved with the magazine took a major role in the "Draft Goldwater" movement in 1960 and the 1964 presidential campaign. Buckley also helped found Young Americans for Freedom; it and National Review spread his vision of conservatism throughout the country.
The early National Review faced high-profile defections from both left and right. Garry Wills broke with NR and became a popular liberal -- yet still religious -- commentator. Buckley’s brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell Jr., who ghostwrote The Conscience of a Conservative for Barry Goldwater, left and started the short-lived traditionalist Catholic magazine, Triumph in 1966.
During the 1970s, NR began to embrace the rising neoconservative movement -- former liberal intellectuals revolting against the New Left counterculture. Many believe that this mindset slowly replaced the magazine's original world view by the end of the Reagan era. Buckley himself began turning to other interests (such as a series of spy novels) and would retire as full-time editor in 1990.
During the 1980s NR called for tax cuts, supply-side economics, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and support for President Reagan's foreign policy against the Soviet Union. The magazine criticized the Welfare state and would support the Welfare reform proposals of the 1990s. The magazine also regularly criticized President Bill Clinton. It first embraced, then rejected, Pat Buchanan in his political campaigns. A lengthy 1996 National Review editorial called for a "movement toward" drug legalization
Jeffery Hart, a longtime NR editor, criticizes the magazine's current crop of writers as being too topical, too ideological, and no longer grounded in serious political philosophy. In his 2005 book, The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times, he laments the loss of the Eastern Conservatives as a dominant force in the Republican Party (GOP). Hart relays how co-founder James Burnham (a leading theorist), supported Nelson Rockefeller's 1964 presidential campaign. This critical view concludes that National Review turned its back on the Taft and Rockefeller wings of the GOP, abandoning its principles to become a coalition of Southern evangelicals and populists, best exemplified by George W. Bush.
A popular feature of National Review is the web version of the magazine, National Review Online ("NRO"), which includes a digital version of the magazine, with articles updated daily by National Review writers, and conservative blogs. The Online version is called NRO to distinguish it from the paper magazine (referred to as "NRODT" or National Review On Dead Tree.) The site's editor is Kathryn Jean Lopez, known to the NRO community as "K-Lo". The website receives about one million hits per day -- more than all other conservative-magazine websites combined. Each day, the site posts new content comprised of neo-conservative, conservative and neo-liberal opinion articles. It also features ten blogs:
Markos Moulitsas, who runs the left-wing Daily Kos Web site, told reporters in August 2007 that he doesn't read conservative blogs, with the exception of those on NRO: "I do like the blogs at the National Review — I do think their writers are the best in the [conservative] blogosphere," he said.
Buckley said in 2005 that the magazine had lost about $25 million over 50 years.
National Review is featured in a dry comedic scene in the 1977 movie Annie Hall, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. When Allen visits Keaton's New York City apartment, he sees that Keaton has copies of both National Review and Rolling Stone magazines in her apartment. The following scene transpires:
Allen also featured National Review in the 1971 film Bananas, situating a single issue against rows and rows of pornography on a store's magazine rack.