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If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement

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If Not Us, Who? is both the story of an architect of the modern conservative movement and a colorful journey through a half century of high-level politics.   Best known as the longtime publisher of National Review, William Rusher (1923–2011) was more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He was a political intellectual, tactician, and str If Not Us, Who? is both the story of an architect of the modern conservative movement and a colorful journey through a half century of high-level politics.   Best known as the longtime publisher of National Review, William Rusher (1923–2011) was more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He was a political intellectual, tactician, and strategist who helped shape the historic rise of conservatism.   To write If Not Us, Who?, David B. Frisk pored over Rusher’s voluminous papers at the Library of Congress and interviewed dozens of insiders, including National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., in addition to Rusher himself. The result is a gripping biography that shines new light on Rusher’s significance as an observer and an activiast while bringing to life more than a generation’s worth of political hopes, fears, and controversies.   Frisk vividly captures the joys and struggles at National Review, including Rusher’s complex relationship with the legendary Buckley. Here we see the powerful blend of wit, erudition, dedication, shrewdness, and earnestness that made Rusher an influential figure at NR and an indispensable link between conservatism’s leading theorists and its political practitioners.   “If not us, who? If not now, when?”—a maxim often attributed to Ronald Reagan—could have been Rusher’s motto. In everything he did—publishing National Review, recruiting and advising political candidates, organizing cadres of young conservatives, taking on liberal advocates in a popular television debate program, writing a syndicated column—his objective was to build a movement. His tireless efforts proved essential to conservatism’s ascendancy, from the pivotal Goldwater campaign through the Reagan era.   Largely unexamined until now, Rusher’s career opens a new window onto the history of the conservative movement. This comprehensive biography reintroduces readers to a remarkable man of thought and action.  


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If Not Us, Who? is both the story of an architect of the modern conservative movement and a colorful journey through a half century of high-level politics.   Best known as the longtime publisher of National Review, William Rusher (1923–2011) was more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He was a political intellectual, tactician, and str If Not Us, Who? is both the story of an architect of the modern conservative movement and a colorful journey through a half century of high-level politics.   Best known as the longtime publisher of National Review, William Rusher (1923–2011) was more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He was a political intellectual, tactician, and strategist who helped shape the historic rise of conservatism.   To write If Not Us, Who?, David B. Frisk pored over Rusher’s voluminous papers at the Library of Congress and interviewed dozens of insiders, including National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., in addition to Rusher himself. The result is a gripping biography that shines new light on Rusher’s significance as an observer and an activiast while bringing to life more than a generation’s worth of political hopes, fears, and controversies.   Frisk vividly captures the joys and struggles at National Review, including Rusher’s complex relationship with the legendary Buckley. Here we see the powerful blend of wit, erudition, dedication, shrewdness, and earnestness that made Rusher an influential figure at NR and an indispensable link between conservatism’s leading theorists and its political practitioners.   “If not us, who? If not now, when?”—a maxim often attributed to Ronald Reagan—could have been Rusher’s motto. In everything he did—publishing National Review, recruiting and advising political candidates, organizing cadres of young conservatives, taking on liberal advocates in a popular television debate program, writing a syndicated column—his objective was to build a movement. His tireless efforts proved essential to conservatism’s ascendancy, from the pivotal Goldwater campaign through the Reagan era.   Largely unexamined until now, Rusher’s career opens a new window onto the history of the conservative movement. This comprehensive biography reintroduces readers to a remarkable man of thought and action.  

33 review for If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    I must admit that I had never heard of the subject of this book before reading it. National Review had a good reputation as being a cerebral and intelligent conservative magazine, but most of the fame for that particular organization went to William Buckley, who I had heard about but do not consider myself extremely familiar with. William Rusher himself serves as an interesting figure within the Conservative movement, someone who had encouraged Goldwater's campaign in 1964 and someone whose inte I must admit that I had never heard of the subject of this book before reading it. National Review had a good reputation as being a cerebral and intelligent conservative magazine, but most of the fame for that particular organization went to William Buckley, who I had heard about but do not consider myself extremely familiar with. William Rusher himself serves as an interesting figure within the Conservative movement, someone who had encouraged Goldwater's campaign in 1964 and someone whose interest in conservative purity showed him to have the quixotic sense that many self-professed conservatives have had in recent years of abandoning the Republican party or at least threatening or posturing himself to do so because it was not conservative enough for his purist tastes. Intriguingly enough, this was the case just before the Reagan revolution made the Republican party much more conservative, at which point the subject's third party efforts magically stopped, even if he was not always a fan of those who were standard bearers of the Republican party. It is fortunate the book does not paint the subject as some sort of prophet, but rather someone whose writing and political advocacy was meant to bring a solid conservative perspective to power within the Republican Party as well to build a bridge between more elite conservatives like him and the rural populists upon whom conservative electoral victories have depended. This book is eighteen chapters and more than 400 pages long, and it gives a detailed discussion of a life that might seem to some to lack a lot of incident given that the writer was involved in conservative journalism as the publisher of a niche magazine for highbrow and middlebrow conservatives. The book begins with an introduction that claims Rusher is the most underrated major conservative leader. After that the author goes back to discuss the childhood of Rusher (1), his life as a young Republican in college and as a lawyer (2), and his early job of investigating communism (3). This led to his job as a longtime publisher for the National Review (4), where he served as a speaker, debater, advocate, mentor (5), and as an insurgent within the Republican party (6) supporting conservative causes, including encouraging Goldwater to run in 1964 (7). After that there is a look at the conservative message he helped to promote (8), his ambivalence about Nixon and fondness for Reagan (9, 10), and his attempts to run right (11), deal with doubt (12), and even try to start a conservative party as an alternative to Ford and Rockefeller in 1976 (13). After that there is a look at his commentaries during the Carter year (14), his friendship with Reagan (15), his role as an elder statesman among conservatives (16), his retirement (17), his life in San Francisco (18) until his death, and then a look at his confidence that the truth would prevail in a conclusion, followed by some concluding notes, acknowledgements, and an index. One of the most fascinating aspects of William Rusher is what he represents as a conservative. As someone who spent his life living in cities like New York City, Washington DC, and San Francisco, he is by no means a rural populist or a traditionalist. He never married, never learned how to drive, was a political animal despite lacking any skill in winning political office for himself and only had modest skills in helping others to win. What he did do, and did well, was helping to marshal the intellectual arguments for conservatism in such a way that he encouraged and helped others who were able to bring practical benefits to conservatism. Even if the author is someone I cannot identify with very closely, given his elite background and his fondness for big cities and his lack of the common touch, he certainly comes off as someone worth respecting, someone with a genuine intellectual conservatism, and someone who was willing to oppose the Rockefeller Republicans who supported big business and liberal causes and help to encourage more genuine Republicans who are worth getting behind, and that has to count for something, even if he's not someone who ended up attracting a lot of personal fame.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sand

    [Imported automatically from my blog. Some formatting there may not have translated here.] I got this as a freebie for renewing my subscription to National Review awhile back. (You can only have so many NR t-shirts or coffee mugs.) And it finally percolated to the top of my to-be-read pile. Written by David B. Frisk, it is a hefty tome, 438 pages of text, over 60 pages of endnotes. And what's it about? It is a biography of William A. Rusher (1923-2011), the publisher of National Review for abou [Imported automatically from my blog. Some formatting there may not have translated here.] I got this as a freebie for renewing my subscription to National Review awhile back. (You can only have so many NR t-shirts or coffee mugs.) And it finally percolated to the top of my to-be-read pile. Written by David B. Frisk, it is a hefty tome, 438 pages of text, over 60 pages of endnotes. And what's it about? It is a biography of William A. Rusher (1923-2011), the publisher of National Review for about thirty of those years, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. In addition to his work at the magazine, Rusher was also a political activist, heavily involved in an effort to steer the Republican Party to a more consistently conservative direction. Although his early GOP efforts were in support of Dewey and Ike, he came around to a solid conservatism after being disillusioned with the Eisenhower presidency. Rusher was considerably different from NR's famous editor, William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley was born rich, comfortable moving in sophisticated society, totally charming. Rusher was from a modest background, working his way into Harvard Law, very much the practical politician, obsessed with devising winning strategies. WFB was the golden retriever in the limo, Rusher the pitbull in the street. It's surprising things worked as well as they did at the magazine. Frisk does a good job of describing the inner wangling factions at NR, often setting Rusher at odds not only with WFB, but also with such eminences as James Burnham. There were disagreements aplenty: what the overall tone of the magazine should be; which political candidates should be supported, which dumped; just how dismissive should the magazine be toward conspiracy theorists, antisemites, and other fringe-dwellers. (Shrinking the tent of acceptability is fine in theory, but once you start factoring in the loss of subscribers, contributors, and advertisers, it gets more difficult.) Rusher was a huge Goldwater fan in the early 1960s, a major force pushing him into his 1964 presidential candidacy. Frisk reminds us that, like any sane person would be, Goldwater was unenthusiastic about running. He seems only to have embraced the process when it was clear he wouldn't win. But the Goldwater campaign was successful at beating the liberal Republicans, and it hatched the political career of conservatism's most shining success, Ronald Reagan. Rusher was an active participant there too. He never liked Nixon much, and wanted Reagan to be the nominee in 1968. Outside of politics, well… there wasn't much there to Rusher. Never married, a few close friends. Obviously his choice, but somewhat sad. I can't recommend this book to anyone who isn't really interested in the history of the US conservative political movement. At times it seems that there's no memo so inconsequential, no squabble so trivial, that Frisk doesn't describe it. Still, it's readable, and will act as a lasting memory to someone who undoubtedly had a major effect on his times.

  3. 4 out of 5

    The American Conservative

    'David Frisk’s biography gives us a full portrait not only of a good man at work, but also of an era that saw one of the most abrupt changes in governing philosophy in American history. William A. Rusher was at the heart of that change, and it will be surprising for some to learn that on the political and organizational front he was its chief protagonist. If Not Us, Who? gives the man his due. It is invaluable reading for any student of the rise of American conservatism.' Read the full review, "G 'David Frisk’s biography gives us a full portrait not only of a good man at work, but also of an era that saw one of the most abrupt changes in governing philosophy in American history. William A. Rusher was at the heart of that change, and it will be surprising for some to learn that on the political and organizational front he was its chief protagonist. If Not Us, Who? gives the man his due. It is invaluable reading for any student of the rise of American conservatism.' Read the full review, "Gentleman Bruiser," on our website: http://www.theamericanconservative.co...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Kabaservice

    I reviewed this book for The New Republic: http://www.newrepublic.com/book/revie... I reviewed this book for The New Republic: http://www.newrepublic.com/book/revie...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  6. 5 out of 5

    K.E. Wells

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bjc624

  8. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom Wannamaker

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate Pitrone

  11. 4 out of 5

    H. Jr.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard de Villiers

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Denisov

  14. 5 out of 5

    Phil Melton

  15. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Rusak

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  18. 5 out of 5

    William Cherry

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Wensley

  21. 5 out of 5

    Neal

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Nardo

  24. 4 out of 5

    Casey

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nate Geisinger

  26. 4 out of 5

    Briana

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tomáš Zemko

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ash

  29. 5 out of 5

    Donald Forster

  30. 4 out of 5

    Terry

  31. 5 out of 5

    Tony Schievelbein

  32. 4 out of 5

    Ross

  33. 5 out of 5

    Mark

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