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Buckley Questions the Establishment

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Why should the concept of an American
Establishment, first introduced into
American journalism, according to Rovere, by
National Review, be so fascinating to so many
people? The answer is complicated. It has to do,
first, with the difference in attitude, in England
and here, toward a national Establishment. In
England, most influential people like to feel they
are in the Establishment. Here, especially among
intellectuals, the desire is to be thought of as too
independent a spirit to be a part of any movement
which is powerful, and institutionalized, let
alone one of which it might be said that it is also
an apparatus.
Thus, when Rovere writes that his buddy
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. “has connections with the
Establishment” it becomes dismally complicated
to sort out everything Rovere is trying to communicate.
At least this much he seems to be trying-
to say: (1) There is no Establishment, so anything
I say about Arthur’s connection with it is
playful, and not to be taken seriously. However,
(2) what I say must have at least a superficial
plausibility, if I am to bring off this spoof; and it
is of course true that Arthur is very well connected
with very powerful people: for instance,
at the national level, the President of the United
States; at the professional level, Harvard University;
at the level of high-brow journalism, myself.
And I, er, know the President pretty well,
who, of course, is an overseer of Harvard, where
he has known Arthur for years, and of course
Arthur wrote a lot of his speeches for him and a
book, Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference?, which may have swung as many votes
as the margin Kennedy won by, who knows? And
then, Arthur and I wrote a book together–yes,
it is plausible to suggest that Arthur has connections
with something that might be called The
Establishment. But remember!–there is no such
thing.

William F. Buckley, Jr., “The Genteel Nightmare of Richard Rovere,” Harper’s Magazine, Aug., 1962.

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