A review of The Idiocy of Assent by Reid Buckley, P.E.N. Press, 257 pages, $32.95.
If you’re in need of an antidote to the joy that the prospect of a 54-seat Republican majority in the 112th Congress may give you, this fun and fact-filled book is your ticket back home from euphoria.
Reid Buckley is a jolly warrior in the lost struggle against barbarism. He has a bizarre sense of humor and a touch of vulgarity that speak to my soul. He is, however, subject to paroxysmal hissy fits as he contemplates the certain and imminent end of Western Civilization, a development that should not unhinge him as much as it does when one considers how much he enjoys writing about it, and the rare ringside seat we the living have been granted from which to observe its death throes.
I am tempted to say, “Lighten up some, Reid.” Civilizations come and go in geologic time, a process of birth, growth, maturation, decay, and death that is observable only when one takes the cosmically long view. The Isaiahs who proclaim The End of Things are usually old men; Reid is 80. Jacques Barzun will be 103 in a few weeks. Former Senator James Buckley, a beloved older brother of the author, who recently told a dinner guest that only “divine intervention” could save us, is 87.
Still, all ’round us is the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence: a population unable to write coherently, speak clearly, or even think rationally; instant communications which have hyped us along the way toward a mass anti-culture that seeks the lowest common denominator in all things, finds it, and lowers it further still; a national debt approaching $100 trillion when one factors in the unfunded looming liabilities of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security; the most arrogant and ignorant president in, well, forever, and a universal suffrage composed largely of the Gadarene swine that elected him; a conservative movement revived but led to only a temporary victory by another of Reid’s older brothers, the late irreplaceable William F. Buckley, Jr. (nothing more than a rear guard action in the author’s view, now carried on by a National Review that has suffered a “terminal descent of the magazine’s wit”); and men who wear baseball caps at meals.
It is difficult to disagree with the theses of this short book — 257 pages plus a brief appendix, including a few illustrations, and footnotes and endnotes to which the author developed an early and incurable addiction; it could have been shorter still were he not promiscuous with adjectives.
Looking about for signs and portents that he is wrong, I see in the last half-century only the quantum improvement in the quality of frozen pizzas.
Reid believes that a return to small-government conservatism is impossible, and points out that even the founding fathers discussed the proposition that the republic they birthed and for which we now yearn was workable only in a small country with, the author adds, a homogeneous population. We fit the bill in those days: a population of 2,500,000 mostly rural freemen of primarily Anglo-Saxon stock who were at least aware of the Magna Carta and the freedoms passed down from their ancestors who had wrung it out of King John. Put it plainly: They were proud, you betcha. With the emancipation of the slaves and the mass migrations from continental Europe — especially Eastern Europe — and Asia, our national identity changed with our racial heritage, and so did our expectations of government. Our population is a hodgepodge of racial and ethnic incongruity, and is 124 times what it was when the founders established a government to serve white yeoman farmers.