Henry Regnery opened his Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher: “Every book requires justification.” So did his business. “The firm I founded was born in opposition,” Regnery wrote. “[I]t was this fact that gave it whatever distinction it attained and provides the justification.”
In 1947, Regnery Publishing fit into a small office above a drugstore in the Chicago suburb on Hinsdale. But the dissident press grew into a major interest—the print arm of the conservative movement, alternately archive and script. Regnery gave conservatism “a style and rhetoric of its own,” William F. Buckley wrote, and did “more than anyone else to reconcile potentially conflicting viewpoints into a coherent intellectual force.”
Regnery launched both Buckley and Russell Kirk, and published (or reissued) such stalwarts as James Burnham, Richard Weaver, John Dos Passos, Albert Jay Nock, Willmoore Kendall, Wyndham Lewis, Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound…the list goes on. Fearless and unfashionable, Regnery made no apologies for selecting his authors “for being in accord with the traditional values of Western civilization.” His was a refined sensibility—combative but not uncouth.
I couldn’t help wondering what Mr. Regnery would have thought of the brochure that just arrived at our office, courtesy of the house he built. Would he spend an afternoon devouring the latest treatises by noted philosophers Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris? Surely he’d be drawn in by instant classics like The Really Inconvenient Truths—“liberals are the true culprits in numerous environmental disasters”—and How I Helped O.J. Get Away With Murder.
If not, there’s always Robert Spencer’s latest iteration of How Radical Islam is Subverting America or Tony Blankley’s “sophisticated program for spreading Western moral values worldwide.”(Hint: it comes with “a compelling argument for a military draft.”) Scratch that: neocon pamphlets wouldn’t sit so well with the son of an America First founder. Better to just leave him with the new Regnery’s pride and joy—a whole series devoted to college football fandom.
Justification? That’s pretty clear—and “born in opposition” just doesn’t sell.
It would be easy to beat up on Henry’s heirs for their crass commercialism, their jingo conservatism, their disregard for the old canon. But that would indict the entire Right. It wasn’t old Regnery who made Witness a bestseller, the American people did. And we aren’t exactly those people anymore.