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The F-bomb In the Air and "William Hef Buckley"

This article is a little over a month old, but I just recently came across it for the first time, and in light of the comments Matthew Lickona has stirred up over at Godsbody with his excellent article in Doublethink, it seemed pertinent.

William F. Buckley, Jr., who died February 27 at age eighty-two, was many things: graduate, and scourge, of Yale University; architect of the modern American conservative movement; founder of National Review; author of fifty books and 5,600 syndicated newspaper columns; host of TV’s “Firing Line” (1,054 episodes recorded between 1966 and 1999); peerless debater and lecturer; spy and bestselling spy novelist; millionaire yachtsman; harpsichordist and pianist; bon vivant and…Playboy contributor?

Yes, in a union difficult to imagine involving any of today’s leading conservatives, a group more prone to moralistic bombast than Buckley–though not, assuredly, any more moral, or resonant–the bard of East 73rd Street wrote for Hugh Hefner’s oft-vilified Playboy, on and off, for almost four decades, on topics ranging from “the Negro male” and Nikita Khrushchev to Oprah Winfrey, the Internet, and Y2K.

The history of modern conservatism may be brief, but there already exists a fairly sizable (troubling?) union of vulgar sex and a kind of acquiescent opposition from conservatives in the Venn diagram of modern culture. We can presume Lickona would not have begun his article in quite the same way thirty or forty years ago. Perhaps not ten years ago. How things change.

Over at National Review Online, editor Kathryn Jean Lopez gives her articles titles like “Wax Bush” (on the March for Women’s Lives in 2004, critically) and “The C Word” (on Catholic schools!). This is hardly “fighting fire with fire” (as the Cubeland Mystic described Lickona’s article); these are not-so-finely nuanced titles meant to titilate and grab readers. It isn’t clear to me whether Lopez meant to fool unsuspecting passers-by into reading something they might otherwise ignore, or share a joke with other “edgy” conservatives. Maybe the answer is both.

Of course the title for an article on Catholic schools is a lot different than an article on the excesses of popular culture, but I find myself wondering whether we’ve reached a point when Lickona’s observations have been obviated by the kind of engagment proffered by Lopez. Or even Buckley; I much enjoyed his last Blackford Oakes novel, especially this passage:

“Three hours later Blackford lay on his bed, the yellow light from the little picture lamp hanging opposite only just reaching her eyes, closed, her breasts softly shaping the sheet that stretched toward Harry Doubleday. But the light didn’t reach his sex and the long, light fingers that enveloped it. His lips came together only enough to say her name. She responded by a a further caress. His joy was unbounded, miraculous.”

“Hey! That’s not satire!” No, Johnny, it isn’t. Republicans have sex too. And write about it. So do Catholics – even conservative Catholics. This used to be obvious, as evidenced by the large number of children in families of that ilk. Now – maybe not so much. How strange that the Puritan Age in America and the Repressive Attitudes of the Catholic Church should have produced so many families with so many children. Well what in the world is sex for, anyway? “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Gen 1:28) and “lust’s the ground of wedlock, even sublimed / like alcohol in a stew.” (Geoffrey Hill) Once upon a time we understood that better. Or at least we understood the advantage of grounding it at all.

What do you do when your teenage daughter comes home and tells you she’s been knocked up? Sorry! I meant, “in the family way.” You could send her to a “home” and make her do laundrey. But we tried that; it wasn’t so familial. Now you may as well run for vice-president, or keep running. That’s a good thing, I think. The real question is: besides risk-taking and relatively ignorant teenagers and a few adults, how long before the connection between sex and offspring is dropped entirely? Are the angels guarding the tree of life in danger of being thrown over? Mark Steyn has noted – many, many times – declining birth rates all over the industrialized world. Brave New World is seventy five years old. In other words: not so new. Lolita herself is, yes, a sexagenarian, perhaps even a GILF. What can be done?

“Be in the world but not of the world,” or something like that. Perhaps that includes, even necessitates, writing the occasional article that sends up the F-bomb and words like MILF. Maybe it means acknowledging that sex has consequences. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, children.


  1. Matthew Lickona says

    Very kind of you. As Eeyore said, “Thanks for noticing.”

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