In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” Tom Hanks says, “‘The Godfather’ is the sum of all wisdom.” He’s wrong: William F. Buckley Jr. is. Words and phrases from his books, columns, and television shows continue to shed light years after they have expired, like a north star guiding conservatives home. Buried in an interview with an obscure Sixties radical during a forgotten, 49-year-old episode of Buckley’s PBS TV series, “Firing Line,” is the precise blueprint the Left used to transform the culture, radicalize three generations of Americans, and move the U.S. closer to the precipice of adopting socialism. The left-wing activist also revealed jarring but fundamental realities about the Left: “It’s anti-rational” and has a “greater tolerance of liquidating a class” of people by mass execution.
The episode — which was titled “Hate America” and which featured Buckley and fellow conservative intellectual Arnold Beichman speaking with a socialist agitator named Dotson Rader (who went on to be an entertainment reporter for Parade magazine) — was recorded on October 3, 1972. Weeks later, the nation’s “silent majority” would power President Richard Nixon to a historic, 49-state landside over the avatar of the New Left, George McGovern. The Left appeared to have suffered a definitive rebuke.
When a triumphant Buckley pressed Rader to name one thing the revolutionary movement had accomplished, he appeared stunned by his guest’s response. Rader essentially gave a precursor to Andrew Breitbart’s dictum that “politics is downstream of culture.”
What the Left got right
“Part of our belief is that the first thing that you change, [the] first thing that occurs before political change is cultural change. You have to change the conscience of people,” said Rader. On that front, “we’ve made a great deal of achievement. The country has moved left, culturally left.” Countercultural revolutionaries had shifted “the country as a whole in terms of questions on abortion, on pornography, on greater freedom for the arts,” and other social issues.
To succeed in replacing America’s constitutional system of limited government with a socialist government, “I personally believe you’ve got to change people’s sexual attitudes, people’s attitude towards the church, people’s attitude towards education, towards business,” Rader continued.
He then revealed how the Left would change those values: by promoting practices that vitiated America’s Judeo-Christian moral heritage, like drug use, abortion, and “sexual promiscuity.” Any one of these, he said, could serve as a “device” for the Left to chip away at America’s foundation. “Part of the thrust of the Left has been dropping out of the system,” Rader said:
That’s why drugs, for example, are a device, and sexual promiscuity and sexual deviancy is a device. Anything, any device by which a person becomes an outlaw within his own country makes him, by definition, a rebel [and] therefore, natural allies to a revolutionary movement, whether they’re conscious of it or not, are women who undergo illegal abortions, are people on drugs, people who take drugs, homosexuals — anyone who is by definition an outlaw.
In other words, Rader believed the Left would triumph first through culture, not politics. “I think in the last decade an alternative value system has arisen, which is in conflict with the commanding values in this country, and it’s that alternate system which produces subversives,” he said.
What the Left really wants
Rader went on to reveal a few key truths about the Left, which was just beginning its march through the institutions and toward cultural hegemony:
The Left is ‘anti-rational’: Rader rebuked his conservative counterparts for trying to sway him through rational arguments:
You are continually trying to find rationality behind what people do politically, particularly what the Left does politically. The thrust of the Left is against reason. It’s anti-rational. That’s why it’s anarchistic and nihilistic. It’s anti-rational.
The “motivation” of “most people, including myself” on the Left came about “experientially rather than intellectually,” Rader admitted. Even when they make a rhetorical argument on behalf of their views, “the motivation behind these abstractions doesn’t come intellectually; it comes emotionally; it comes out of the gut.” His words reiterate those of Buckley’s former National Review colleague (and former socialist) James Burnham, who wrote in his 1964 book Suicide of the West:
Modern liberalism, for most liberals, is not a consciously understood set of rational beliefs, but a bundle of unexamined prejudices and conjoined sentiments. The basic ideas and beliefs seem more satisfactory when they are not made fully explicit, when they merely lurk rather obscurely in the background, coloring the rhetoric and adding a certain emotive glow.
The radical Left is open to ‘liquidating a class’ of people in the name of ‘justice’: Rader freely admitted that the Left had little interest in treating individuals fairly; it wanted to settle the issue of “justice” between groups of people. “One of the differences between this generation and revolutions, say, of the nineteenth century, is we’re not interested fundamentally in equality. We’re fundamentally interested in justice, which means we have greater tolerance of liquidating a class,” he said. Beichman immediately interjected, “We’re talking about murder. This is the way people get categorized. A class – Jews, Catholics, and gypsies. You don’t see people. You see Jews, Catholics, and gypsies. … When you talk about the word ‘class,’ don’t you see people? Is it that fixed that you can say, ‘You are to be shot, and you are to live?’ And who the Hell are you to say so?”
Rader clarified that mass violence is part and parcel of the revolutionary Left. “The whole ability to function as a revolutionary … depends upon the ability to depersonalize your enemy. If you personalize your enemy, you can’t act.”
The modern Woke Left, with its embrace of identity politics, Critical Race Theory, and intersectionality (and rejection of kyriarchy), asserts that (mostly) immutable factors make up most important aspects of an individual’s personality: The Left elevates the importance of a person’s race, sex, sexual proclivity, gender identity, and ethnic self-identification, and then deals with everyone according to his membership in these relatively exclusive and impermeable groups. The individual’s personality, and personhood, dissolve into a tangled lot of conjoined group memberships — and the individual is dealt with accordingly.
The Left is motivated by nihilistic virtue signaling: Rader said that he lacked the “physical courage” to take up arms, and he knew that he would likely be liquidated in the inevitable waves of purges that take place after a left-wing revolution succeeds — but he supported the revolution, anyway. “I am part of a class, and am part of a privileged class, that would be eliminated. I mean they might get you first, but they’ll get me next,” Rader told the affluent socialite Buckley. “But that doesn’t matter to me. I want revolution to come.” Rader said he had “a psychological need” to support the movement, which he equated with “justice,” even if it meant his own (presumably unjust) death.
What the Right got wrong
Although Buckley often showed virtually prophetic insight, he and Beichman mocked Rader for highlighting the importance of cultural and moral factors in sustaining the American republic. Buckley joked that Charles Manson embodied Rader’s perfect revolutionary. Beichman retorted that it’s “not true” that a cultural revolution would change the nation’s politics, because “I don’t think it necessarily follows that a Left culture necessarily produces a Left politics.”
Five decades later, the returns are in, and Rader was right.
The number of Americans who say religion is “very important” to them fell from 75% in 1952 to 48% in 2020. That’s significant because religious observance does more than virtually anything to predict someone’s political outlook. The Pew Research Forum’s Religious Landscape found that 47% of those who deem religion “very important” call themselves conservative, while 47% of those who find religion “not at all important” identify as liberal/ progressive.
Social trends have followed — or, if Rader is right, led — this shift:
- According to the 1972 General Social Survey, 46% of Americans said premarital sex was always or almost always wrong. In 2018, 69% of Americans found sex between unmarried people “morally acceptable”;
- Gallup noted, “In 1974, five years after Woodstock, a majority of U.S. women (60%) said in a poll conducted by the Roper Organization that given a choice, they would rather ‘stay at home and take care of the house and family’ than ‘have a job outside the home.’” That fell to 44% by 2016;
- In 1969, 40% of Americans believed abortion should be legal in the first trimester; by 2018, it had climbed to 60%, albeit with significant caveats and exceptions;
- In just five years (2013-2018), the number of Americans who said it was morally acceptable for teenagers to have sex rose by 10 points (from 32 to 42%);
- In 1972, 39% said that someone who is “against all churches and religion” should not be allowed to teach in a university, 45% believed a professing Communist should not be able to speak publicly, and 61% believed that colleges and universities should fire any openly Communist professor. Today, an increasing number of Americans oppose “churches and religion,” Communists lead protests against conservative speakers, and self-identified Marxist social scientists outnumber conservatives by more than three to one in faculty lounges.
The political results are easy to see: In 2020, 49% of members of Gen Z had a positive view of socialism, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation — making them roughly twice as likely to support collectivism as members of the Silent Generation.
Ironically, America’s Founding Fathers made the philosophical mirror-image of Rader’s argument nearly 200 years earlier:
- George Washington said in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indisputable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness”;
- John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”;
- James Madison (or Alexander Hamilton) wrote in Federalist No. 55 that, without “sufficient virtue among men for self-government … nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another”; and
- Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure … are undermining the solid foundation of morals the best security for the duration of a free government.”
The Founding Fathers understood the link between broadly accepted moral values and their system of a limited government, which relies on its citizens’ capacity for self-governance. So did Dotson Rader. Those who would rebuild the historic American tradition of limited government, respect for inalienable rights, and personal responsibility will never succeed without renewing the culture — including the moral precepts upon which the American republic rests.
You can watch the full episode of “Firing Line” below. The exchange runs from approximately 25:35 until about 36 minutes:
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.