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Against ‘Buchananism’

Pat Buchanan is not an aberration.

Pat Buchanan Speaks At CPAC
(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Patrick Buchanan has announced his retirement from his syndicated column.

After three presidential runs, decades of column writing, dozens of books, and one magazine founded, Buchanan leaves professional life at a time when no great statesmen and no great political writers stand on the American stage. The last of the former, Buchanan served loyally half a century ago. The last of the latter spun out of the business after a joint attack in 1992 that Pat survived, and Joe Sobran did not.


It is a sad scene, but not an unpromising one for a man more familiar than any with long-delayed vindication.

I have long said that Pat Buchanan’s role in the second half of the twentieth century was simple: He was there, and he wasn’t insane.

When the dust settles, I hope we will realize just how valuable that role was. Even in his prime, Pat Buchanan was not a great writer, though he was a good one. He was not a political philosopher per se; he was not a strategic genius; and he was never going to win any elections. But he was there.

Pat Buchanan stands head and shoulders above the other political men of these last few generations for a simple reason: He has been, since the era of Richard Nixon, a man in the arena who knew and thought the things that American men have known and thought since the founding of the country.

The productive jobs with which American men once supported families and built an empire should not be sold by global oligarchs to third-world wage slaves for pennies on the dollar.


The vibrant factory and farming towns that once dotted the continent from coast to coast cannot be left hollowed out and rotting, nowheres for the heroin-addled sons of American stock to live and die and kill in without ever darkening the doors of churches in whose overgrown yards their ancestors are buried.

Once-great cities like Detroit, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco cannot be allowed to crumble while violent criminals rule their streets and untold millions of dollars flow from American workers’ hard-earned wages to the federal government’s unjust taxes and then to the pockets of grifter activists and crooked politicians.

When the border is a warzone; when enough drugs to kill the whole population are trafficked by organized cartels while the federal government sits on its hands; when American labor cannot keep up with illegal competition, we do not have a country.

American boys should not be sent to die in the deserts and mountains of foreign lands for causes that have nothing to do with them, or with their country, or with their faith—to lay down their lives in service to an order that does not know their names, that does not know any better than they do why they have to go.

American children should not be compelled in state-run schools to spit on the graves of their forefathers.

The natural and moral law written immutably at the moment of creation was not overturned by human powers in 1973, or in 2003, or in 2015.

These are a few of the simple truths Buchanan has affirmed, week after thankless week, no matter how far or how quickly they fell out of popular favor.

To reduce any of this to an ideology—or even to a political movement—is an injustice to both the man and the ideas. Even worse would be to cast “Buchananism,” or even paleoconservatism, as a minority alternative to Movement Conservatism.

Yet this is what everybody—everybody—does.

Even Buchanan’s greatest boosters treat Buchanan as the strange one and his opponents as the norm—if only implicitly, by accepting that Buchananism exists, and by presenting its defender merely as an outside challenger to a tradition that popped up yesterday and will disappear tomorrow.

There is no “Buchananism.” It is just common sense, and American sensibility.

Some of Pat’s critics seem to understand this better than his friends. As Ed Kilgore writes in New York:

To put it plainly, Pat Buchanan was the living link between the nativist, isolationist, and protectionist paleoconservative tradition in GOP politics — which most observers thought had died in the 1950s — and the MAGA conservatism associated with Donald Trump. Both these strains of right-wing thought substituted nativism and economic nationalism for the free-market ideology that prevailed in the last half of the twentieth century, combined with an aggressive traditionalism on cultural matters and heavy-handed appeals to white racist fears of a more diverse nation.

Lefty spin aside, there is a real point here. Pat Buchanan is not an aberration: the outré columnist who brought hard-right talking points to MSNBC and gave Bob Dole a little scare in 1996. He is the one man who carried the torch of the old American tradition when everyone else—not least of all the GOP—seemed content to leave it in the past.

He was there, and he wasn’t insane. With that alone (and providence, and a few more years of letting things play out) we may soon be able to say that Pat Buchanan carried the American tradition—a centuries-spanning legacy whose champions range from Hamilton to Jackson, from Lincoln to McCarthy—through one of its darkest hours.