The death of conservative icon William F. Buckley led someone, I don't remember who, to eulogize that "he loved his own ideas more than he hated theirs." He wasn't, in other words, one of those "liberals are fascists" or "party of death" types that dominate conservative thought these days. I can't really say for certain whether that's true. My suspicion, however, is that it isn't. Helping me along with this suspicion is William Kristol. Writing in today's New York Times, he says:
In my high school yearbook (Collegiate School, class of 1970), there’s a photo of me wearing a political button. (Everyone did in those days. I wasn’t that much dorkier than everyone else.) The button said, “Don’t let THEM immanentize the Eschaton.”
There you see an example of the influence of Bill Buckley, who died last week at age 82. For it was Buckley who had promulgated this slogan, as an amusing distillation of the thinking of the very difficult historian of political philosophy Eric Voegelin. I’d of course not read Voegelin then (there’s a lot of him I still haven’t read, to tell the truth). But the basic thought was: Don’t let ideologues try to create heaven on earth, because they’ll deprive us of freedom and make things a lot worse.
To read Buckley growing up in the 1960s was bracing. Buckley and his colleagues — some merrily, some mordantly — mercilessly eviscerated the idiocies of the New Left. They also exposed the flaccidity of the older liberalism. If, like me, you already had a sense from listening to most of your peers and some of your elders that a lot of what they believed was silly (or worse), you couldn’t help but be attracted to Buckley.
That doesn't paint a rosy picture. Aside from the obsession with the worst caricature of the opposition (with the ever present but equally silly idea that their idiocy guarantees the legitimacy of your view–it doesn't), Buckley's slogan has a kind of ironic ring to it. Conservatives have now embraced those people who literally want to bring about the Eschaton. Just ask John Hagee.
*minor edit for sense above–"loved his ideas more than he hated THEIRS"–apologies–I posted too damn early in the morning.
**minor edit in "minor edit"–thanks Jem.