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Remembering Justin Raimondo

The man who once said, “it is Buchananism—or barbarism. The choice is yours to make,” made his mark on TAC, and anti-war activism.

Justin Raimondo once recalled when he first decided to support Pat Buchanan for president. It was at the 1991 California Republican convention after the start of the Persian Gulf War. For a small group of conservatives, it was the first U.S. war they had publicly opposed. Buchanan was arguably the most prominent.

A decade later, Raimondo was speaking in Long Beach, Calif., at the Reform Party’s national convention on behalf of Buchanan’s third presidential campaign. “Ladies and gentlemen, the choice before us is clear: it is either a foreign policy that puts America first, or else one that guarantees perpetual war,” he told the audience. “It is Buchananism—or barbarism. The choice is yours to make.”

Based on that election and the endless wars that would subsequently follow, it would have been easy to despair. The people chose barbarism, masked in happy talk about a humble foreign policy. Raimondo did not. By the time he was boosting Buchanan at that raucous convention in Long Beach, Raimondo was already established as an internet journalist and editorial director of the invaluable Antiwar.com.

When Antiwar.com launched, neoconservatives and other assorted war hawks were baying for military intervention in the Balkans. For another generation of conservatives, Kosovo was the first U.S. war we had publicly opposed. That was true for my friend TAC alumni Michael Brendan Dougherty, who wrote about the experience in his chapter in the Jonah Goldberg-edited compilation Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation.

Raimondo died last week at age 67 after a long, painful struggle with cancer. His storied career covered many of the themes that gave rise to this magazine and he labored tirelessly inside the coalition that has supported TAC from the beginning, a veteran of both libertarianism—though not necessarily, he would be quick to remind you, the Beltway-approved variety—and 1990s paleoconservatism. Thus Raimondo emerged as an important voice here and contributing editor until his death.

It was the project of Raimondo’s life to try to restore an older American conservatism that was far more skeptical of war and the use of military power to shape political outcomes than it had become during the Cold War. His book Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement was a major contribution to that history. Buchanan, one of our founding editors, wrote the foreword. Later editions included contributions by the conservative scholar George Carey, libertarian intellectual David Gordon, and then Chronicles executive editor Scott Richert. (Raimondo was also a longtime regular contributor to Chronicles).

Like his idol Murray Rothbard, Raimondo did not forsake electoral politics for purely intellectual pursuits. An occasional Republican and Libertarian Party candidate for office himself, Raimondo was a big supporter of the Buchanan presidential campaigns—the media was frequently bewildered by the idea of a gay Buchananite, prompting Justin to tell a San Francisco newspaper in 1996, “He does not think that homosexuality is all that great a thing. But I don’t need his approval. Why does any gay person need anyone’s benediction?”—as well as Ron Paul’s. 

The last “America First” candidate Raimondo supported actually became president of the United States, defeating the Democrat he aptly labeled “Hillary the Hawk” in a 2006 TAC cover story. Raimondo was a tireless defender of Donald Trump despite disagreements within his circles prompted by Trump’s employment of hawks like John Bolton and vacillating on foreign policy. Raimondo nevertheless saw Trump as a populist with pro-peace instincts. His generation of paleocons tends to be impatient with complaints about Trump’s intellectual rigor or uncouth behavior—they remember that during that Buchanan gave them a purer, more knowledgeable and gentlemanly proponent of what came to be known as “Trumpism” and he was similarly savaged.

Raimondo never shied away from disagreement: not in the comments, on Twitter or in his thousands of columns. If he had a bone to pick with your argument, whether tactical or substantive, he was not afraid to share it with you, friend or foe. I was not spared myself. He frequently reminded me, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, that extremism in defense of peace was no vice and moderation in pursuit of liberty was no virtue.

TAC readers can be grateful for the virtues Raimondo shared with us in his busy, ultimately too short, life.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The American Conservative.