No Longer Standing “Athwart History, Yelling Stop”

A HALF-CENTURY AGO, the National Review published its first issue, a thirty-two page weekly that featured writers such as Willmoore Kendall, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, and, of course, William F. Buckley. While many of the pressing issues of November 1955 no longer trouble the scene of 2005—most notably, the problem of the Soviet Union—a quick perusal of this first Review reveals that some things have stayed the same. The France of 1955 suffered from “economic, social, political and moral weaknesses,” an observation that would please NR political reporter John J. Miller, who in 2004 wrote Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then, as it still does, was angering conservatives. In 1955, that court would make it impossible “for a concealed agent of the FBI to put the finger on clandestine Communists.” Today, it wants to make it impossible for school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The similarities between then and now do not indicate that conservatism occupies the same place that it did a half-century ago. Reading the National Review of 1955, one senses some desperation. Conservatives of that era stood “athwart history, yelling Stop,” fighting against what seemed like the unstoppable movement toward collectivism. Conservatives of 2005, with the recent groundswell surrounding government spending reminding us, are firmly on the offense. The National Review and subsequent journals and organizations deserve credit for the rise of conservatism, but this rise would not have been possible without core principles which are as relevant today as they were in 1955. This is how the National Review put its “Credenda” in the first issue.

Reprinted with permission from National Review.