BRIAN LAMB, HOST: R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., author of "The Conservative Crack-Up," why the title?
R. EMMETT TYRELL: Well, in 1984 I published a book called "The Liberal Crack-Up." Now I've published "The Conservative Crack-Up" so as to make it clear that I am America's most impartial political observer.
LAMB: Do you think anybody listening or watching will believe that?
TYRELL:Well, there are some seven-or eight-year-old kids out there that would believe that. Maybe my mother would believe it. I have an aunt that would believe it. But no, I guess anyone who has observed politics knows that I'm a conservative. However, at the end of this book I hope I give a blueprint for the future of American politics, which I think will be beyond the twin crack-ups of liberalism and conservatism.
LAMB: In 1984, "The Liberal Crack-Up" was about what?
TYRELL: Well, you know, every few years liberalism would have a civil war. Actually, in '48 and '47 it had a civil war within its own camp. The radicals within liberalism were defeated by the moderates, led by people like Arthur Schlesinger, who we know today is still around. But in the late '60s there was another civil war -- early '70s -- amongst liberals, and the radical elements overcame liberalism and radicalized it, fragmented it into various groups of zealots and destroyed its chances of winning the presidency, except with that odd year, 1976, when we had a reaction against Nixon and Watergate.
But otherwise, the crack-up of liberalism is intact, and it's intact all over the world. We just saw John Major win the British election, which was a big surprise, but once again, the average voter, whether he be an American or an Englishman or in Germany, I think, it's true, too, they remember the 1970s -- the stagflation, the anger -- and they are very leery of people who call themselves liberals, even though a lot of these liberals are trying to get back in the American mainstream. But at any rate, that crack-up is still intact. The liberals can't seem to nominate a man or a woman who is acceptable to the mainstream of American politics. I think that's true today. In 1988 you had the seven dwarfs -- the creme de la creme of the liberal Democrats coming forward, and in no time they were being called the seven dwarfs. Now, the Democratic field this year is the funniest field ever nominated by Democrats in this century. In fact, half of the candidates were actually retired politicians who came out of retirement. So that crack-up is still in force. But I think now you have a conservative crack-up.
LAMB: We'll talk more about that in a second, but let me just take your temperature on two politicians -- a quick answer, if you don't mind, and then we'll go on later. Ronald Reagan and George Bush -- what do you think of each one of those?
TYRELL: Well, as I say, in "The Conservative Crack-Up," whatever one might think of him, Ronald Reagan was the most effective political leader in this century in the United States. The only man to hold a candle to him was FDR. The reason I say it is that FDR and Ronald Reagan both were the unique individuals who changed the course of American policy, both domestically and with foreign policy. It was up to George Bush to consolidate what Ronald Reagan did, and for some reason he has thus far failed to consolidate it.
LAMB: Would you vote for him?
TYRELL: Ah, will I vote for him? I think I'll vote for him.
LAMB: I know this is not in the book, but Ross Perot, how does he fit into this?
TYRELL: It seems to me he is another example of the conservative crack-up. I mean, this past primary we've had Pat Buchanan, George Bush, all trying to represent themselves as conservatives, and Perot is sort of representing himself as a kind of conservative. It seems odd to me that none of them has the good sense to try and just present themselves as the heir to Ronald Reagan. Reagan left office -- it's forgotten -- he left office with a 67 percent approval rating, the highest approval rating of any ex-president, of any retiring president. A tremendous job was done on his reputation by the intelligentsia, but history is going to remember him as a man who was comparable to FDR as a political force in our country; no cultural force, and that's a major part in this book. In "The Conservative Crack-Up" I point out that for some reason or another -- I think I have the answers -- Reagan and the Reagan conservatives made almost no impact on American high culture. That wasn't true of FDR. FDR and the New Deal made a profound impact on American culture.
LAMB: What is that pin?
TYRELL: I can thank Ronald Reagan for allowing me to wear this pin. I was in Prague not long ago, and Warsaw and Budapest, and you walk the streets of those countries, wearing a dark suit and speaking English -- I think American, actually; speaking American. I speak American. You speak American. The editor of The New Republic speaks British. But I can wear this pin, walk the streets of Prague, speak American and not be arrested as a CIA agent because we won the Cold War. It's over. This is a Red Army pin. I could have bought the whole uniform. They are selling the pins. The Russian mafia are selling the pins, the uniforms. I'm sure I could have gotten a tank around the corner -- you can buy these things.
I thought it was about time, now that the Cold War is over. It's so hard to find a Communist, I thought I'd be a Communist. So I'm excited to become a Communist. You have to remember, Brian, I have literary pretensions. Anybody, any writer in American in this century, any American with literary pretensions has had his fling or her fling at being a Communist -- even Fitzgerald and Hemingway -- so I'm trying my best to be a Communist. I want to be taken seriously amongst the intelligentsia, and I want it to be said that Tyrell has become a Communist, possibly the only Communist left in the world, as the editor of The American Spectator.
LAMB: By the way, what is The American Spectator?
TYRELL: The american spectator? A cocky guy, standing on a corner. No, The American Spectator is the magazine I've edited for 25 years and founded. It's an intellectual review, although if I could sell magazines to a sports fan out there, it's a sports magazine.
LAMB: How often does it come out?
TYRELL: It comes out monthly.
LAMB: What does it cost?
TYRELL: Thirty-five dollars a year.
LAMB: Do you make a living off of it?
TYRELL: Yes, and off of books.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
TYRELL: And peddling pins. I've written three books, and I've edited three books, so I've got six on the shelf.
LAMB: Why did you start The American Spectator, and where did you start it?
TYRELL: I started The American Spectator in Indiana at Indiana University in '67 because I didn't like the looks of student radicalism. I thought student radicalism was going to destroy the universities, and it certainly did set them back. I thought it was going to be a real burden to the best of liberal values, which it was. I didn't think it was a good thing, and I think I was right. It led to a little increase in VD in the country, a little more mischief in the country, and that's about it.
LAMB: Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. What part did swimming have in your early life?
TYRELL: Well, that's in "The Conservative Crack-Up," too. A lot of people think people like writers and editors were forever eggheads. Well, unfortunately I was never an egghead. I was a swimmer on the Indiana University swimming team, which was the greatest swimming team in the world. We had three-quarters to four-fifths of all world records. I suffered a slight inferiority complex. Most of my pals were world record holders and Olympic champions, and the best I could do was to be about the fourth best in the country in my age group. But our coach -- one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, Doc Councilman -- had the added attribute of really being an intellectual, and he is the guy who got us -- a lot of us -- to read seriously, to try to write, go on to graduate school and to listen to opera while we were swimming the 200-meter butterfly.
LAMB: How did that all happen? Were you reluctant to do that when you first started out with him?
TYRELL: Yes. Like a lot of young people, reading books and education didn't have a lot of zest for me. But, you know, all you have to do is have a few smarts and be around people who present ideas and literature in an attractive way, an imaginative way. One of the points I try to make about the conservative crack-up is the liberal crack-up came about because liberals had a super abundance of imagination. The conservative crack-up came about because conservatives don't tend to have much imagination. Liberals brought about their crack-up by extravagance. Conservatives brought about their crack-up through omissions.
The imagination is something I try to talk about in this book. Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. I think there is a lot of truth to that. It's an imagination that makes a young person say, "I want to go out and read Shakespeare," or "I want to go out and do better than Shakespeare." Look, you must have an imagination. I mean, what you did here, no one else has done -- what you've done with C-SPAN. You saw something in media that wasn't there. That takes imagination.
LAMB: Doc Councilman, was he a liberal or a conservative?
TYRELL: Doc is an important figure in "The Conservative Crack-Up" here because he was emblematic of what was happening in the '60s, '70s and '80s in America. His experience is characteristic of the experience of a lot of Americans. He started as a conventional liberal but he adjusted his views, just like Ronald Reagan started as a conventional liberal. Doc Councilman, in the '80s when he was voting for Ronald Reagan, could say, as Ronald Reagan said, "I didn't change my views, the liberals changed theirs." They became radical. Doc continued to be a liberally minded guy, but when he saw the Great Society go off the rails, when he saw the programs directed at the inner city create dependency and wretchedness and lawlessness, he adjusted his views and tried to look for some new ideas; the ideas of Jack Kemp, which are ideas based, as I say in "The Conservative Crack-Up," not on partisanship but on scholarship -- the study that we've done on the inner city.
LAMB: Where are you from?
TYRELL: Where am I coming from? Way out there. I tell you where I'm coming from, Brian ...
LAMB: No, where is home? Where is your hometown? Where were you born?
TYRELL: I'm coming from the Palm, and I had three martinis at lunch this morning. No, I'm from Chicago, and I learned my politics from the Daley machine.
LAMB: Were you born in Chicago proper?
TYRELL: Just outside of Chicago, Oak Park -- me and Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright.
LAMB: What was your family like? What did your dad do? What did your mom do?
TYRELL: My parents didn't read books. They do now -- my mom does. My dad's deceased. My dad worked for Pabst Brewing Company, and my mom raised three kids. Now she has the time to read books. It's amazing how many books older people -- retired people -- read.
LAMB: Why did you pick Indiana University?
TYRELL: I picked Indiana University because I wanted to be a swimmer, and that's where the greatest swimmers were. I could have gone there or Michigan. Both teams were great, but Indiana was better.
LAMB: Were you a conservative from the very beginning of what you would consider your thinking life, until today? Has there been any switch or major change in your thinking?
TYRELL: I've always been a libertarian conservative. My grandparents were libertarian conservatives, and I have always thought the way my grandparents thought.
LAMB: Did you know your grandparents?
TYRELL: Yes, I did. I knew my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather had been a cop in Chicago. For many years he was the sole survivor of the Haymarket riot, and in the late '60s when the SDS blew up the memorial to the police who fought and died in the Haymarket riot, I always considered it an assault on me because as a little boy as the great-grandson of the sole survivor of the Haymarket riot, I would appear in short pants once a year and put a wreath on the Haymarket statue.
LAMB: What did your grandfather do?
TYRELL: My grandfather did what so many Tyrells did. When the Tyrells went to Ireland after the Norman conquest, following the Normans -- they were Normans -- what did they do, they land in Ireland and immediately take the sides of the Celts. You know, they had to take the underdog. I could be a great British lord by now, but instead we built castles and the British promptly knocked them down. My grandfather, when he became politically aware in Chicago, he could have been one of those great Irish-Catholic, Democratic pols. What does he do? He becomes a Republican. He was a very active Republican politician in Chicago, and naturally lost every race he ever ran.
LAMB: You know, when people say, "Oh, you're having that guy Tyrell on again." How do you deal with that over your life -- the correct pronunciation?
TYRELL: I kind of give up. It's R. Emmett Tyrell, but as long as you spell it right and buy this book "The Conservative Crack-Up" and read The American Spectator, I don't care how you pronounce it.
LAMB: And R. Emmett isn't what people call you. What do they call you?
TYRELL: People call me Bob. That's a funny story, if you want to know the truth. I mean, The American Spectator was founded as a college magazine, and it became the national anti-radical magazine. When we founded it in '67 it was to put on the liberal professors and to put on the radical students. It was put-on. We used these kind of fancy names -- the Baron von Cannon, R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., and suddenly it was 1970 and R. Emmett Tyrell was my name. Unfortunately, the name was too well known to get back to Bob Tyrell, which is what I'd been called. That's the way it goes. I was a victim of my 15 minutes in history.
LAMB: You moved the magazine from Bloomington, Ind., to Washington, D.C., suburbs when?
TYRELL: I should have brought the magazine out here in 1980 from Bloomington, Ind., where it had been for 13 years, but I didn't because I thought I'd wait a while for President Reagan to pacify the region. I thought by 1986 he'd sufficiently pacified the region for me to arrive here, and I brought the troops out and promptly Iran-Contra blew up all around us.
LAMB: Let me jump to one story -- it's near the end of the book -- where you talk about getting together in 1986, or maybe it was later, with Bill Buckley in New York. You're with The American Spectator. You have a magazine. He has The National Review, and you get together with Bill Buckley at a dinner one night, to what?
TYRELL: Well, '86 or '87, see, I thought throughout the '80s things weren't going well for conservatives. One of the things I did do at Indiana University, aside from swimming, was I almost got a Ph.D. in history. I studied under some really great historians -- Robert Farrell, Robert Byrne, people like that. From my study of American history I discovered that the Roosevelt administration, which was an epochal administration with a lasting influence on American government, influenced not just the politics of the country but the culture of the country, and people left high culture in the Roosevelt years to serve in the Roosevelt administration. They'd serve for a while, and then they'd go back into high culture. Archibald MacLeish, Robert Sherwood -- these were New Dealers who were in no time winning Pulitzer Prizes.
During the 1980s there was absolutely no image, no reflection, of the Reaganite point of view in American culture, aside from maybe on college campuses -- the junior professors burning a few effigies of Ronald Reagan on campus and maybe some rude play or something like that to Ronald Reagan. The intelligentsia, if anything, became more polluted by left-wing politics throughout the '80s than they had been in the '70s, and that's why I refer to this as culture smog. I mean, it was like the German notion of kultur. It was aloof, it was exclusivist, it was in this case highly politicized and just riven with political fanaticism and a real hatred of the most successful president since Roosevelt.
And so, at any rate, I thought maybe Bill and I ought to talk about this because Bill was, in many ways, a mentor of all young conservatives and a formidable figure, and he was one of the few conservatives who was a figure in our culture. And so I sat down with Bill and the editors of The National Review, and I said, "We've got a problem here," and I talked throughout the evening. We smoked cigars and we drank espresso, and at the end of the evening Bill said, "It's not a problem." He thought everybody was having the same impact on American culture that he'd had for 20 years. Of course, he was wrong, and that's one of the great failings of conservatism is that you can blame, as I have, you can blame liberals for elbowing conservatives out of high culture, out of media, and for misrepresenting the '80s as a time of greed and excess and all that.
You can do that if you want, and there is a lot of truth to it. I mean, liberals are pretty narrow-minded and pretty bigoted, and they really can never hear enough of themselves. They only want to hear different voices if they're further left. In the world today, that's hard to find. There aren't any Communists. Just me -- I'm the last Communist left, and they haven't invited me over. But some of the exclusion of conservatives from the culture smog is because of liberal bigotry. But the conservatives have got to take some responsibility for it, and they've done, in my opinion, a bad job of expanding the great counterculture that they had in the late '70s and the early '80s; a counterculture made up of wonderful magazines like Commentary and The American Spectator, The National Review, The Public Interest, even Human Events, which is strictly more political but it serves a purpose, and Chronicles and things like that; and the wonderful string of think tanks that we have in this town and in California at Stanford at the Hoover Institute and things like that; and a wonderful array of thoughtful writers and policy analysts that we had.
We had that counterculture, and we didn't expand it. Just by sheer luck, the New York Post changed hands and became a kind of conservative voice. The Washington Times was founded and represents the conservative point of view very forthrightly, just as the Washington Post forthrightly represents the liberal point of view. I don't have any quarrel with that, Brian, by the way, as long as you're going to be forthright about it. You say, "Look, I'm a liberal," as I'll tell you I'm a libertarian conservative. But that was the extent of our counterculture. And we can't forget the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. If you want to know what a conservative thinks, you go to those sources. But we didn't expand that, and I think the conservatives have to take responsibility for that.
LAMB: Go back to Bill Buckley for a moment. For those that don't know what he did, would you tell us 25 years ago, or whatever the time frame was, what Bill Buckley did for conservatives that was so important.
TYRELL: Well, in the founding of the conservative movement, as I point out in "The Conservative Crack-Up," you had economists, you had political philosophers, you had businessmen, you had politicians, you had very few writers or editors. You had one, that was John Dos Passos.
LAMB: Who was he?
TYRELL: John Dos Passos was the author of U.S.A., a great novelist in his day, which was the '20s and the early '30s, and he was still a man whose literary stature was at one with the stature of F. Scott Fitzgerald in those days.
LAMB: Was he an American?
TYRELL: Yes. John Dos Passos. He was a graduate of Harvard and an interesting guy.
LAMB: When did you first read him?
TYRELL: You could read him, still, in the late '40s and the early '50s. He was an over-the-hill novelist, but he was the only literary figure of note that was part of the founding of the conservative movement. He had this young guy, Bill Buckley, and Bill went on to found, in 1956, I believe, The National Review. Every political movement needs a forum -- a literary or a journalistic forum -- in which the movement's representatives can strut their stuff and show their ideas and discuss their ideas, and show the world what they think. The National Review was that forum -- the original major forum of conservative thought, and it's been a major forum of conservative thought ever since. As George Nash, the major historian of American conservatism, says, without Bill Buckley and The National Review, someone might have eventually come along and provided that forum, but Bill did it and that forum became the major forum for American conservatism. Bill did it, of course, with enormous panache.
LAMB: Does The American Spectator compete with The National Review?
TYRELL: No. The National Review is more journalistic and more of a fortnightly; it comes out twice a month. We're a monthly, and it's a different kind of journalism.
LAMB: Is it a different kind of conservatism?
TYRELL: No, I don't think so. It has had a different history. One of the points I make in "The Conservative Crack-Up" is that our future is going to be less ideological. I think in the 1990s liberals are going to look around and see that liberalism is now, as I see it is, not liberal at all but new age, utopian, rancorous, dyspeptic. Those liberals who see it as I see it, and who still think themselves liberals, are going to do what happened in the 1970s; they're going to take a walk -- to use a historic term. They're going to take a walk from liberalism to the right. That happened in the 1970s when people like Jean Kirkpatrick and Bill Bennett and intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol took a walk from liberalism. The American Spectator was there -- it was young in those days -- and we were the first conservative publication to publish the neo-conservatism, and in fact, in those days we even published socialists. I don't know if there are socialists left, except maybe at Harvard or theYale Law School or something.
LAMB: What's a neo- anything, like you also write about Charlie Peters and the neo-liberals.
TYRELL: Yes. Is that gin? It's delicious.
LAMB: Straight water.
TYRELL: It's straight water? Gosh, you've got good water in this city. I never have water without a bar of soap, Brian. What was the question? What's a neo-? Well, in the '70s the liberals moved right and went into alliance with Bill Buckley and with me in The American Spectator. Liberalism quickly denied them that sacred august term "liberal," and they were called neo-conservatives, the new conservatives.
LAMB: Who is the preeminent neo-conservative?
TYRELL: Well, the preeminent neo-conservative intellectual would be Irving Kristol.
LAMB: Who is Irving Kristol?
TYRELL: Irving founded The Public Interest. He is a contributing editor of, I think that's right, the Wall Street Journal. He's a major literary force, a major force of ideas.
LAMB: Is there a way to describe the one message that Irving Kristol keeps giving people in his writings or his books or his quarterly?
TYRELL: Yes, well, I suppose the one message is that the welfare state did nothing more than put money in the hands of counselors, therapists, urbanologists, and occasionally a few poor people, but didn't solve the problems of the city. He'd say that the welfare state got to be -- I'm trying to be a little cuter than I should be. The major message of Irving Kristol, I think, would be there are limits to what the good government can do for the citizenry.
LAMB: Is a neo-liberal a supporter of Ronald Reagan?
TYRELL: Yes. That was the interesting thing. That's why I think American conservatism was so intellectual and so vital throughout the '80s. The conservatives were forever being presented as exclusivist and people unwilling to accept other people's point of view. In the 1980s we welcomed -- hesitantly at first -- we welcomed all these liberal Democrats aboards. As I point out in "The Conservative Crack-Up," in 1970 we were welcoming Irving Kristol into our camp avidly, whereas in 1968, a mere two years before, he had written the endorsement for Hubert Humphrey. Remember, in 1968 the conservatives quite rightly thought Hubert Humphrey a very liberal guy.
LAMB: I'm going to jump around here, because the names are throughout this thing and I want you to tell me why. On the back of the book is advance praise for "The Conservative Crack-Up." How do you get advance praise for something?
TYRELL: Well, we sent out the galleys, which were a disgrace -- the typesetting was terrible -- and you send out bound galleys to various eminent writers or personages that they might comment and say something that we think will bespeak the quality of the book and maybe attract readers. Then you put these blurbs, as they are, on the back of the book. I am rather proud of the blurbs on the back of this book. It's the rare book about politics that has an endorsement both from Tom Wolfe, who is a conservative, and Norman Mailer, who is no conservative but a pretty good writer.
LAMB: Tom Wolfe says -- by the way, I hate to keep asking this question, but who is Tom Wolfe, and how do you know he is a conservative?
TYRELL: Because we publish him in The American Spectator. Tom Wolfe is a novelist, founder of the New Journalist, author of, most recently, "Bonfire of the Vanities," and I think he is one of the great writers in our country today.
LAMB: What kind of a conservative is he? Neo-, regular, libertarian?
TYRELL: Tom is much more literary than he is political, but I would say that from my experiences with Tom he is kind of a libertarian conservative.
LAMB: He says, "A provocative thesis presented in high style and with a fine, personal touch."
TYRELL: I'm grateful for that.
LAMB: Do you think he actually read the book?
TYRELL: Yes, in fact, he called me not long ago and he restated what he thought of that book. He thinks that I manage in that book what Malcolm Muggeridge, the author, George Orwell, the British author, and Mencken did in their writing, and that is sort of view an event as a spectator, putting myself once within the event and yet making some general statement about what took place during the '80s -- I was one of the first journalists to meet with Ronald Reagan after he signed the INF treaty -- make some general observation that's informative to the general reader, not just blustery and egotistical.
LAMB: Jack Kemp, Jean Kirkpatrick, Robert Novak, P. J. O'Rourke?
TYRELL: P. J. O'Rourke, of course, is a marvelous, best-selling humorist
in the country, I suppose.
LAMB: Is he a conservative?
TYRELL: Oh, yes. P. J. is a very brave conservative. He made his name at Rolling Stone and in the National Lampoon, and he sure didn't have to come out as a gonzo Republican, a reptilian Republican, or whatever it is that he calls himself.
LAMB: Norman Mailer is the last endorsement: "For a man I disagree as much with as Emmett Tyrell and his cockamamie notions about Ronald Reagan's virtues, I must say I enjoyed the sheer hell out of this book." Have you ever met Norman Mailer?
TYRELL: Yes. Mailer and I have a shared interest in boxing, handball.
LAMB: Do you box?
TYRELL: No, but I play handball, and his friend once said that the only athlete he could take from another sport and transform into a boxer is a handball player, and Norman and I have spent a good bit of time debating in a friendly way over exactly what his friend said when he said he could have turned me into the middle-weight champion of the world.
LAMB: Where would your paths cross?
TYRELL: Norman's and mine?
LAMB: Yes, in what kind of an environment?
TYRELL: In New York -- I mean, in literary circles in New York.
LAMB: You mean conservatives and liberals talk to one another in literary circles?
TYRELL: Well, that's a hell of a good question, Brian. The fact is, they generally don't, but Norman Mailer is an independent guy and he is independent enough to endorse "The Conservative Crack-Up," politics aside. He is independent enough to be friendly with the editor of The American Spectator and Theodore Acopolis, a playboy conservative from all over the western world.
LAMB: Who publishes in your magazine ...
TYRELL: Yes. But it is true; America is not unusual in that there is this tremendous bifurcation, or segregation, in which you rarely see conservatives and liberals together. It's because, I think, liberals like sameness, and many conservatives, to their discredit, don't like to reach out and be with other people. Elsewhere in this book I say that one of the disabilities of the conservatives was they suffer from a conservative temperament, as Michael Oakeshott, the British philosopher, first wrote about it, and that's a temperament that is very winning in a lot of ways. It makes them good parents, it makes them good members of their community because they eschew public life, generally, conservatives do, and they seek out the private and the personal; whereas liberals -- one of the reasons they're such great political forces is they love political conflict, they love to ham it up, to demonstrate, to promote this or that idea. They love public life. Conservatives generally don't. But where I think liberals draw the line is when that public life brings them into close contact with William F. Buckley Jr.'s conservative set of ideas, because you'll find almost any temple of learning and sophistication in American dominated by liberals, which almost totally excludes those who disagree with them.
LAMB: Malcolm Muggeridge, you mentioned. He's dead. Who was he, and why are you fond of him?
TYRELL: He's dead. Aren't we all?
LAMB: He died how many years ago?
TYRELL: Just a few years ago.
LAMB: Malcolm was one of my greatest friends. He was a superb writer, a very funny guy. Tom Wolfe thinks that he's one of the three great fashioners of English prose in this century. I was very fond of him because he had kind of an irreverent way of looking at things. He really loved literature and loved good writing, which are two of my great loves. But I mention it at some length in this book because he was a fine writer who I observed closely for many years.
LAMB: Where did he live, by the way?
TYRELL: He lived in London. He also lived here in Washington immediately after the war, for a while, as a journalist for the London Telegraph. But I mention him at some length in this book, in the same chapter that I mention Bill Buckley at some length, because I think that these two people demonstrated the value to politics of having a literary imagination and eschewing the conservative temperament. They were pretty much conservatives themselves -- certainly Bill Buckley -- but they weren't mired down by that conservative temperament. They went out in public, they liked public life and they reached out to other people. Because of their literary skills and their wonderful imaginations, they were able to do what I think has been a conservative failing, and that is they were able to dramatize ideas and personalities, and create the legends, the illusions and the images that are necessary for an effective, political movement. For a movement to be effective politically, over the long run it has to influence the culture of the country. Buckley is about the only conservative who has, and one man can't do it all.
LAMB: A religion question. When you read Bill Buckley you know that Catholicism plays a major role in his life; Malcolm Muggeridge also, and I can't remember why -- I'm not a great reader of his -- but I remember seeing him talking about religion and God in his life. What role did that play in your life, in your conservatism? Is it religious- based?
TYRELL: No, my conservatism is based on the fundamental value of freedom, and I'm a libertarian conservative.
LAMB: The difference?
TYRELL: Not necessarily. As a matter of fact, I'm a believing Catholic. That comes as somewhat of a shock to people who compare me to Mencken. I'm a believing Catholic. I believe in the Judeo-Christian ethic, but I don't talk much about that in this book because I don't believe I'm competent enough to write about these things. When I get the confidence to write on these things, I promise to be an enormous bore on the subject to all my agnostic pals. I try to lead a decent, Christian life, but I don't claim to be able to tell you how to do it.
LAMB: If you were to have to pick a couple of books, besides some that you've written yourself, to kind of be something that you'd trust and you'd go back and look at and read, if you had to pick one or two in history that would be the basis of your thought, what would they be?
TYRELL: Well, Aristotle's "Politics" are a terrific read. I think Aristotle comes across as a very modern person. I think "The Federalist Papers," because I think, as I point out in this book, I think what conservatives are really doing nowadays is trying to conserve the sagacious, prescient values of the Founding Fathers. This country was founded on a miracle, the Founding Fathers -- the arrival on the scene in this country of such knowledgeable and prudent people that they could put together a blueprint for government that has lasted this long and will last so much longer.
LAMB: Let me ask you about "The Federalist Papers." Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay were the authors. Which one of those did you like the most and why?
TYRELL: You know The American Spectator is considered kind of a flashy, irreverent, joyous publication, but a surprising number of the thinkers I've admired in life have been not very flashy. I don't want to say I've been solid, sober, cheerless. Madison, that's my kind of guy. Madison never did much that was dashing, but he certainly did more solid work in his lifetime than most of my flashy friends would do in a hundred lifetimes.
LAMB: A couple of weeks ago when we were talking to Bob Bartley on this program about his book "The Seven Fat Years," one of the people that he writes of is a gentleman by the name of Hayek, an Austrian economist. You mention him early in the book. Who is this man?
TYRELL: Friedrich Hayek was an Austrian free-market economist. He wrote "The Road to Serfdom" right after World War II in which he argued that Nazism wasn't any aberration. It was what collectivist, socialist society would lead to -- Nazism, communism and totalitarianism. You can't have political freedom without economic freedom. Hayek was the founder of the economic thinking of modern American conservatism. It's interesting that in Prague, where I became a Communist, in free Prague, in free Warsaw, in free Budapest, young men and women and old men and women who heretofore had been having their fingers broken by Communist truncheons for expressing their belief in freedom, those people are now in power all over Eastern Europe, and they treat Hayek as a kind of founding father. They talk to people like me from the United States when we visit Prague and Budapest as though we read Hayek every morning. I mean, they think he is a formidable force and, of course, their appraisal is correct.
LAMB: Another thing I jotted down when reading your book is that you often talk about drinking.
TYRELL: St. Paul, you know. A little wine for the stomach. Even this gin that you poured me, I like it. Look, I mean, people should enjoy life. I don't suggest drinking in excess or you won't enjoy life.
LAMB: But you also talk about Rome a lot, and Italy, and Luigi Barzini. Who was he?
TYRELL: Luigi Barzini would be what we would call an American conservative, but he was one of the most wonderful writers of America, ever. He lived in the United States in the '20s. He wrote the most wonderful books, the foremost being "The Italians," and his value system was pretty much my value system. He lived in Rome, but was a great friend of America. When he was on his death bed, he got a letter from the president of the United States before he got a letter from the president of Italy. He was a great friend of America. He loved America, and he saw this as a great country.
You know, Brian, I'm a bit surprised at the end of the Cold War to find people not celebrating the great contribution to world peace made by this country, and reluctant to celebrate the good things that we now live with -- the greatness, by the way, of our history. It's utter poppycock to hear these people groan on about the tragedy of American history. American history has done more to advance freedom and democracy and tolerance in the world than any country on the face of the earth, and if it weren't for the United States today, I wouldn't have been able to buy this Communist pin in Prague from the remnants of the Red Army, now the most peaceful army on Earth, as it's disbanding.
LAMB: What is the Philadelphia Society?
TYRELL: That's a conservative society that meets every year in Chicago. Conservatives are good on politics but lousy on geography.
LAMB: What does it do?
TYRELL: It's the conservative intelligentsia, really. It's a collection of conservative writers and thinkers who meet once a year to discuss what their ideas are and what they ought to be.
LAMB: How many people get together? How many are there?
TYRELL: Several hundred. I don't know. How many Elks are there in the world?
LAMB: Is it a closed group?
LAMB: Do they have public meetings?
TYRELL: Yes, they have public meetings. You have to have certain academic or intellectual credentials to get in, but Brian, I'll get you in to one.
LAMB: You write a little bit about a gentlemen who has been -- I don't know if the gentleman has, but the company, Regnori-Gateway is a book company that we see more and more of here. Henry Regnori, you bring up. Who is he? Is he alive?
TYRELL: Yes, he is. In the early days of the conservative movement when Friedrich Hayek's book "The Road to Serfdom" came out, there weren't a lot of publishing houses eager to publish it in this country. It wasn't conventional. You've got to remember about America, America does tend to be a conformist country. Now, unfortunately, we almost have a wildly non-conformist society but a very conformist intelligentsia, and that conformist intelligentsia was never eager to invite new thinking into its closed society. Henry Regnori recognized the wisdom of the libertarian philosophers and economists, and Henry Regnori set up a publishing house in Chicago that served as the conservatives' publishing arm and published a lot of conservative books, its first best-seller being Russell Kirk's "A Conservative Tradition."
LAMB: Who was Russell Kirk?
TYRELL: Russell Kirk was a popularizer of conservative ideas in the '50s and '60s. He still exists. He's a traditionalist conservative who writes very eloquently about the great western tradition and great minds. What do they call -- the dead, white men that we're supposed to scorn if we aren't politically correct. I've never been politically correct in my life, Brian. God knows I've tried.
LAMB: You write about Judge Bork as being the beginning of the conservative crack-up. Why?
TYRELL: Well, if I had to point to -- as I have to -- there is some history in this book. In any historical analysis you have to point to the beginning, and the beginning of the crack-up that I saw was when Bork was nominated and the conservatives have got to take some responsibility for failing to get Bob Bork on the Supreme Court. I think it's also important to point to that as a beginning of the conservative crack-up, because it was in the Bork nomination and the failure to get him on the Supreme Court that we saw the conservatives' typical weaknesses that have hampered their ability to create the kind of political culture that I think is important for a conservative movement. The conservatives had not reached out. They had not reached out and created the kind of alliances and networks -- they hadn't expanded them -- that would have helped them. They underestimated the opposition. They thought the liberals had retired from the field and were gone. They didn't understand that the liberals' political libido is unstoppable, so they were complacent and they could not dramatize the injustice that was done to Bob Bork. For instance, to represent Bork as a menace to abortion rights, those people who favor abortion I don't think had a legitimate quarrel with Bob Bork. My secret -- I guess it will no longer be secret -- notion about Bob Bork is that if I had to guess, I would have guessed that Bob Bork thought abortion was not wrong. But he did think that Roe v. Wade was bad law and that abortion should be decided by legislatures across the country. I think James Madison would have, too. That's the genius of the American system -- the states as laboratories.
LAMB: Whittaker Chambers.
TYRELL: There were three elements that went into the founding of the conservative movement in the late '40s. One was libertarian economics and philosophy, as embodied in the work of Friedrich Hayek and others. The other was traditional Western values, embodied in the work of Richard Weaver and others.
LAMB: Who was Richard Weaver?
TYRELL: Richard Weaver was a professor at the University of Chicago who wrote a number of wonderful essays -- "ideas have consequences." Conservatives are given to saying that a lot, and that came from Richard Weaver. And the final element in the conservative movement was anti-communism and an awareness of the menace to the whole Western world that Russian communist totalitarianism represented. The conservatives in the late '40s often thought we were going to lose. They were very fatalistic, and Whittaker Chambers was one of those people who wanted to wake America up to the menace of communism, not just Soviet communism.
LAMB: Would you recommend, from a conservative's point of view, that people ought to read the book "Witness"?
TYRELL: Sure. "Witness" is a wonderful book. One of the things I think is very odd about our time is that young people seem to have forgotten the menace that stalked the world as late as three years ago -- three years ago -- and that was the menace of World War III and of nuclear holocaust, the Cold War and the brutality of Russian Communists and Eastern European Communists and, to this very day, Cuban Communists -- the brutality of their repression toward their citizens. We live in a country that is respectful of the right of the homeless person to walk into the Morristown, N.J., library and stink the place up and harass the librarian, so concerned are we for this individual's rights. There is such a person and there is such a story. But all over the world, until recently, and Cuba at this very hour, there are have been people beaten, tortured. Genocide in the name of Marxism has been committed against whole populations. The history of this century has been a history marked by brutal repression of individual freedoms and of religious people, of Jewish people, of all kinds of people, and much of it was done in the name of communism.
LAMB: If you had to pick a book written by a liberal that you would read and spend an evening with and force you to think a little bit, who would you pick?
TYRELL: Well, it's been years since I've read books on philosophy that I found stimulating by liberals, but there was a book by Theodore Lowie called "The End of Liberalism," written about 15 years ago, that I thought was thoughtful and informative.
LAMB: Any current thinker? Any current liberal that you respect?
TYRELL: Today there aren't any great expounders, are there? In the '30s, people wrote about the corporate state or the planned society and revealed a vision of what America might be under a liberal regime; kind of a big-picture view of the world. I don't think anyone is writing that way today. Today liberalism is broken down and cracked up, as I put it, into a series of complaints, and so there will be a book that might be interesting on the doom of the environment, or a book like this Mrs. Faludi's book, about how women are once again being put on the rack in America. Are there any books that are published by liberals today talking about the new socialist state? I guess not. Or consumerism, which was kind of socialism.
LAMB: You throw a compliment to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and you throw a compliment to E. J. Dionne. Do you consider them liberals?
TYRELL: Oh, yes. But now, E. J.'s book was on a particular aspect of American politics. His thesis is not too much dissimilar from mine. There is a disrelish amongst American people with politics in general, and I think E. J. and I disagree on exactly what that disrelish is. Yes, I think there is hope for liberalism within the liberal camp. There are people who are searching for answers to real problems that exist in our country today, as opposed to fanciful problems. I mean, feminism's complaints are all fanciful. Women are integrated into our society and we are moving on and women will be in the workplace, and all these kind of fanatical feminists think that there is some element out there that's going to open up concentration camps for feminists in this country. I think they're wrong, but there are people who are talking about real problems in the world. There are liberals who are, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- Robert Kennedy's daughter -- is a thoughtful liberal, seeking out the answers to urban problems, family problems and the problems that exist in our country.
LAMB: If you want more, you're going to have to get the book. It's R. Emmett Tyrell Jr.'s book "The Conservative Crack-Up." Bob Tyrell, thank you for joining us.
TYRELL: It was great fun.
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