Some years ago, there was a scries on American television called In Search Of . . . , a documentary show that every week embarked upon some intrepid quest “in search of” such titillating arcana as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Flying Saucers, table-rapping, and people who turn into giant mushrooms in the dark of the moon. William F. Buckley Jr. probably never watched the series, but it is impossible to think of his most recent book. In Search of Anti-Semitism, without being reminded of it, and not only because of the similarity of the titles.

His book, of course, is the hardcover incarnation of the mammoth article that devoured the entirety of the December 30, 1991, issue of National Review and a portion of its March 16, 1992, number, “In Search of Anti-Semitism” (the article) was an examination of the “cases” of various individuals who had been accused of anti-Semitism in the recent past—specifically, Joseph Sobran, Mr. Buckley’s “close friend” and colleague at National Review; the Dartmouth Review, an undergraduate magazine; columnist and commentator Patrick J. Buchanan; and novelist Gore Vidal. After winding his way through the published remarks that had instigated the accusations, the accusations themselves, and the defenses offered by the accused and their supporters, Mr. Buckley reached various conclusions and offered sundry meditations of his own in each instance.

All of this would ordinarily have been no more remarkable than the yachting books and spy novels that have consumed most of Mr. Buckley’s literary energies in recent years. His exposition of the “facts” in each “case” seems to have consisted largely of reprinting whole columns and articles that had already been published elsewhere. With the exception of long excerpts from a few letters of Mr. Sobran and others that had not been previously available, Mr. Buckley had little new information to impart, and what he did unbosom was not especially enlightening. Moreover, since the controversies as well as some of the controversialists had generally exhausted themselves already, it was not clear why any of these unpleasantries needed to be resurrected.

By a curious conjuncture of events, however, it so happened that Mr. Buckley’s article appeared almost immediately after news of Mr. Buchanan’s plans to run for President struck the headlines, and it was this conjuncture that created the controversies that ensued. To many of Mr. Buchanan’s supporters, it looked as though Mr. Buckley had deliberately attacked him on the very eve of his campaign, and indeed some sources at National Review have acknowledged that the publication date of Mr. Buckley’s article was moved up to coincide with Mr. Buchanan’s announcement. Hence, there was, to say the least, a good deal of bitter feeling toward Mr. Buckley on the part of the Buchananites, as well as, among many conservatives, a general nausea instilled by Mr. Buckley’s unwillingness to let the supposititious Loch Ness Monster of anti-Semitism rest in its watery lair.

Mr. Buckley’s conclusion as to the “case” of Mr. Buchanan was not that the columnist-turned-candidate was or is an anti-Semite, a term Mr. Buckley never defined, but merely that “I [Mr. Buckley] find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament.” Predictably, Mr. Buckley’s conclusions supplied ample ammunition for both neoconservative and Republican as well as left-wing guns aimed at Mr. Buchanan in the primary campaign, and it soon became evident that, whatever his motivations, Mr. Buckley had struck a blow against a major political effort and a major personality of the American right. Mr. Buckley and National Review then spent a good part of the primary season last year trying to retreat from, explain, and minimize the damage they had done, even to the point of endorsing Mr. Buchanan’s presidential efforts. These maneuvers won them only additional criticism, this time from Mr. Buchanan’s enemies among neoconservatives and Jewish liberals. Questions (and more than questions) were raised about Mr. Buckley’s own attitudes about Jews, and the New York Times‘ Abe Rosenthal went so far as to say that National Review itself “now is wan and pockmarked with the disease” of “moral equivalency” in its view of anti-Semitism. It was clear that Mr. Buckley had blundered, committing perhaps the most serious and harmful mistake of his career.

So much for the background of the original article and the reactions to it, reactions that in retrospect seem inevitable given Mr. Buckley’s reckless, poorly defined, and actually evasive invocation of the potentially ruinous offense of anti-Semitism. It is all very well to say, as National Review did say some months later during the magazine’s bailout operation, that “neither National Review nor its Editor-at-Large has expressed the view that Patrick Buchanan is an anti-Semite”; but to live on the difference between an explicit accusation and Mr. Buckley’s ambiguous, and somewhat giggly, “I find it impossible to defend,” etc., is simply disingenuous, if not outright irresponsible. If Mr. Buchanan is an anti-Semite, Mr. Buckley should have said so. If he is not, then he should have said that. If Mr. Buckley couldn’t tell, then either he hadn’t done enough research and rumination on the question or else maybe the whole question was not worth pursuing in the first place.

One would have thought that Mr. Buckley’s blunder might have taught him something, but evidently it has not, which brings me to my present theme. Turning to the footnote on page 170 of In Search of Anti-Semitism (the book), I discover that Mr. Buckley has once again launched a reckless accusation of anti-Semitism. This time his target is me.

Explicitly, Mr. Buckley accuses me of “anti-Semitic impulses” and of exhibiting an “orientation” toward the most banal Judeophobic delusions. The whole footnote, while it does not merit publication at all, needs to be reprinted and considered in some depth:

A classic example of what anti-Semitic impulses do to a working mind is seen in an editorial published in the March issue of Chronicles signed, and presumably written, by Samuel Francis, an erudite journalist associated with the Washington Times. He cannot believe (he tells us) that I had anything serious to say about Messrs. Buchanan and Sobran. Could it have been . . . a Jewish plot! “Given the triviality of Mr. Buckley’s conclusions, the absence of any compelling evidence to support them, and the staleness of the charges themselves, readers are led ineluctably to an overwhelming question: why did Mr. Buckley choose this particular time to secrete so much mental fluid about this immaterial matter?


“Some light on this may be shed by a ‘backgrounder’ published by the American Jewish Committee more than a year ago, in November 1990, at the height of the controversy about Mr. Buchanan. The backgrounder’s author, Kenneth Stern, wonders what ‘we’ should do about Mr. Buchanan, and his decision was suggestive. ‘Unless he says something Mein Kampfish,’ wrote Mr. Stern, ‘we should refrain from calling him an anti-Semite. That will only draw attention to him, and bring him defenders. Rather, I suggest we approach other people whom Buchanan’s adherents see as equally qualified for the title of “defender of the faith” to write a rebuttal. When it comes to Catholic-Jewish tensions, why not a leader in the church? And when it is an anti-communism based issue . . . why not a non- Jewish conservative?’ If Rasputin and Machiavelli had conspired over cocktails, they could not have concocted a more furtive stratagem. The shoe that fits, of course, is Mr. Buckley, a Catholic conservative. Is it too cynical to ask if the American Jewish Committee or someone associated with it manipulated him into launching his insubstantial Scud against Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Sobran?” From there to the Protocols of Zion is pretty steep climbing, to be sure, but the orientation is dead on.

It is never easy to reconstruct the illogic by which a faulty conclusion is reached, and Mr. Buckley’s reasoning is at best elusive. It seems to consist of the following: a staple theme of anti- Semitic folklore is the claim that there exists a “Jewish plot,” sponsored by rabbis, “elders of Zion,” bankers, etc., which is responsible for a variety of or all evils that have befallen the West, America, Christianity, “Aryans,” etc. I (Francis) suggest and discuss the existence of a “plot” by persons associated with the American Jewish Committee against Mr. Buchanan. Therefore, I am at least encouraging belief in the aforesaid staple of anti-Semitism and may actually credit it myself, and while there is no apparent reason to accuse me of believing in the old hokum of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” I am clearly on the road to doing so and encouraging others to do so.

Now in the first place, if this is an accurate reconstruction of his elliptical argument, Mr. Buckley has committed an elementary logical fallacy in his reasoning, a fallacy so elementary in fact that it has long since been given the name of the “fallacy of the undistributed middle.” A classic expression of the fallacy is the syllogism: all leaves are green; my tie is green; therefore, my tie is a leaf. The specific form that Mr. Buckley has used is (a) anti-Semites believe in a “Jewish plot”; (b) Francis believes in a “Jewish plot”; (c) therefore, Francis is an anti-Semite. You don’t have to be very erudite to see the flaw, but it seems to have sailed past Mr. Buckley.

Mr. Buckley’s error in reasoning is compounded and made more serious, however, by yet another fallacy, namely, that of equivocation—using a term to mean more than one thing in the same argument, the term in question being “Jewish plot.” He is correct that belief in a grand Jewish plot is a staple of anti-Semitic mythology and propaganda, and just for the record I will say that I do not believe in such a plot and did not intend to foster belief in one. What I suggested was indeed a plot, but one of rather more mundane dimensions than the “Protocols” and similar literature expound upon. Mr. Buckley seems to be reasoning that anyone who suggests that any Jews engage in any plots is conceptually indistinguishable from, or at least on the road to becoming, someone who credits the far more grandiose versions of conspiratorialism favored by anti- Semites. By his logic, anyone who accused Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of plotting to give secrets to the Soviets, anyone who accused the late Meyer Lansky of plotting with Bugsy Siegel to commit crimes, anyone who accused Jonathan Pollard of plotting with his Israeli handlers to commit espionage—anyone who suggests that such so-called “Jewish plots” exist is an anti-Semite, even though such plots are “Jewish” only in the sense that some Jews engage in them and not in the more expansive and sinister sense that such plots may be attributed to the generality of Jews.

But of course there is just a little bit of difference between using the concept of a “Jewish plot” as an ideological device to inculpate all or most Jews, on the one hand, and, on the other, citing specific empirical evidence that a particular plot by particular Jews exists. The one implies that all or most Jews or their representative leaders are involved in conspiracy; the other offers evidence that some Jews are involved in a specific conspiracy. Mr. Buckley has elided the two concepts and condensed their separate meanings with his single phrase, “Jewish plot.”

Let it be noted also that I never used the expression “Jewish plot” in the editorial in question; that usage is Mr. Buckley’s, and I believe it would have been an inappropriate expression to use, given the false and sinister associations the expression has. Nevertheless, if, at Mr. Buckley’s behest, we are going to call Mr. Stern’s proposal a “Jewish plot,” then there is little question that it existed, at least in the sense that no one has challenged the authenticity of the American Jewish Committee’s backgrounder. The question, then, is not, did a “Jewish plot” (Mr. Buckley’s term) exist, but rather was I correct in suggesting that Mr. Buckley was part of it? I simply don’t know; I didn’t know when I wrote the editorial, and I still don’t know even now that Mr. Buckley has discussed it. The reader of Mr. Buckley’s footnote (presumably written by Mr. Buckley) will note that he does not deny it, as I deny believing in or trying to foster the myth of a Jewish conspiracy. I am prepared to assume that Mr. Buckley is an honorable man, and if he does deny it, I have no problem believing him. But he has not done so. Will he deny that he was either consciously part of an American Jewish Committee plan to discredit Pat Buchanan or that he was manipulated into being an unconscious tool of such a plan?

Finally, we come to my supposed “anti-Semitic impulses,” which is actually where Mr. Buckley started out. Since I have met Mr. Buckley only briefly and have never discussed with him Jews, anti-Semitism, “Jewish plots,” or related matters, and since I almost never write on such subjects, I do not see how Mr. Buckley could possibly know what “impulses’ related to them, if any, bubble through my nervous system, unless he has inferred such “impulses” simply from the editorial in question through the fallacious reasoning discussed above. My impulse, in fact, is to suspect that Mr. Buckley, his vanity wounded by my dismissal of his article, is simply bent on vengeance. My impulse is to believe that the clue to his attempt to smear me with “anti-Semitism” is betrayed in his phrase that “he [i.e., I] cannot believe . . . that I [i.e., Mr. Buckley] had anything serious to say,” and only one who harbors “anti-Semitic impulses” would confess his inability to believe that William F. Buckley Jr. “had anything serious to say” on the subject of anti-Semitism. My impulse to think so is invigorated by the fact that last spring, as a guest at an editorial luncheon at the Washington Times, in my absence but in the presence of my editors and colleagues, Mr. Buckley chose to insinuate a similar accusation of anti-Semitism against me, presumably but unsuccessfully intended to harm me professionally. My impulse, in short, is to believe that his reckless accusation of anti-Semitism against me is simply malicious. I guess the editorial got to him a little.

Mr. Buckley’s footnote “exposing” my “anti-Semitic impulses” is all of a piece with the regular smear tactics of the neoconservatives with whom he now keeps company, just as it is all of a piece with his flawed and sly attack on Mr. Sobran and Mr. Buchanan and, more ominously, with his general desertion of any serious conservatism in the last several years. In that period he has supported the Panama Canal treaties against the opposition of Ronald Reagan, advocated the legalization of marijuana and of drugs in general, endorsed the legalization of prostitution, published a book in support of national service, promoted federal gun control through the so-called “Brady Bill,” endorsed “civil rights” for homosexuals, and most recently opposed a proposal in Oregon to forbid the state government from promoting homosexuality. Many on the American right may agree with one or another of Mr. Buckley’s positions on these issues, but there is no doubt that the vast majority of American conservatives would disagree with him strongly on all of them.

I do not say this in criticism of Mr. Buckley, because the whole concept of “conservatism” in America today is virtually devoid of meaning, in large part because conservatives made the seminal error of allowing dilettantes like Mr, Buckley to define it for them in the first place. I say it simply to point out that Mr. Buckley’s posturings about anti-Semitism are entirely consistent with the posturing he affects on so many other matters and to suggest that whatever “impulses” may motivate him, they are not what anyone who still regards himself as a serious conservative should pay any further attention to. Let him pose and preen in public all he wants in search of an answer to the burning question of whether his “close friends,” as well as people he has barely met, are or are not anti-Semites in whatever recondite sense he wishes to deduce. Most of the rest of us have better things to do.