William A. Rusher, the long-time publisher of National Review (circa 1957-1988), died Saturday. He was one of the central figures of the postwar right, not only because of his work with NR but because of his populist activism — he was one of the masterminds pushing Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy, and in 1975 he urged Ronald Reagan to run as a third-party candidate. Rusher wrote a book, The Making of the New Majority Party, arguing the case for a third party that would be — unlike the GOP — both economically and socially conservative. His analysis predicted the rhetorical turn the Republicans would take after Reagan, if not the direction of their policies.
He was a dyed-in-the-wool interventionist — at age 17, he was a Willkie backer — and in his youth the model of an Eastern Establishment Republican in his domestic politics as well, though as he relates in his memoir The Rise of the Right, in 1943 he briefly came under the influence of a writer who might have made him reconsider:
As a finalist in the National Intercollegiate Radio Prize Debates (sponsored by the American Economic Foundation), I gave a perhaps too defensive talk in support of free-enterprise principles. The broadcast was heard by Rose Wilder Lane, a noted libertarian author of the day, who promptly initiated a correspondence with me that lasted until I was shipped off to India as an air force officer in 1944. Her defiant contempt for the Leviathan state was something wholly new in my experience and made a powerful impression on me. But her greatest intellectual enthusiasm at that time was reserved for the Arab culture of the Saracens, about which she had just written a book. (She compared the Saracens favorably to the Christian Crusaders.) All this was somewhat beside the point that might have made a decisive impact on me.
Too bad. William A. Rusher (and Rose Wilder Lane), RIP.