William Rusher Interview: Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Conservative Movement: Conversation with William A. Rusher, former publisher of the National Review; 4/25/90 by Harry Kreisler

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The National Review

Now, about the time that we're now talking about, the fifties, National Review came into being. Tell us a little about the background of that.

There was a prior publication, a sort of a John the Baptist among conservative publications, called The Freemen, which started, I think, in 1950 or 1951, and which had a great many of the writers and personalities in it that later did come to National Review, Buckley not among them. He was just out of college at that time, and down in Mexico for a while -- working in the CIA, by the way. But The Freemen broke up after 1952 over the issue of Eisenhower versus Taft. It had a great many cooks making the broth over there, and it broke up. So Willy Schlamm, who was one of the people in the breakup, came to Buckley and said, "We need a new conservative journal of opinion." The single greatest contribution Schlamm ever made to it [was that] he said, "All the voting stocks will be in one person's hand, preferably yours." And to make a long story short, the magazine was launched in November, 1955. Buckley was both editor and publisher, but he very quickly found that it was too much of a load. I was about to step down as associate council to the Internal Security subcommittee when he invited me to leave the practice of the law and become publisher of National Review. I found it too tempting to resist, and lived happily ever after.

What is the importance of National Review for the Conservative movement?

As I've described to you, the movement began with three separate, contending, and often disagreeing tributaries to this single stream. Somebody, to change the metaphor, had to make the lions and the bears and the tigers all lie down together. And I'll have to say for William Buckley that he proved a giant diplomat in that regard. He created, out of these disparate tendencies, the modern conservative movement, and then, by virtue of his personality, put it on the map in terms of television. He made people think, "Well gosh, if a fellow this clever can be for it, maybe there's something to be said for it." He worked out a great many of its formulations and refereed all its internal feuds, which were ghastly. And the fact, no question about it, that he had all the voting stock, solved a lot of problems, even if I disagreed with him. You see, if I disagreed with him, I could give way peacefully knowing that it was merely because he had the voting stock and not because he was right. I never conceded he was right on anything if I disagreed with him!

William Rusher and Harry Kreisler

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