Good piece on Mandela and conservatives, then and now:
William F. Buckley was the founder of National Review, and America’s leading conservative intellectual for much of the second half of the 20th century. He was also an explicit supporter of white supremacy — throughout the 1950s and 1960s he scoffed at the idea that either black Africans or black Americans were capable of self-governance.
As the years passed Buckley’s public views on the civil rights movement in the United States became more moderated, but his antipathy to popular democracy in Africa remained a constant. Here he is in a 1986 op-ed, writing just four years before Mandela was released from prison — at a time when the South African government had already begun the secret negotiations that would lead to an orderly transition to majority rule in that country:
“Western democratic fundamentalism has made things especially hard in South Africa for one simple reason, and that is that Western opinion has consolidated around the position that unless every black in South Africa over the age of 18 is given the vote, there is still injustice in the land.
“The government will not … grant political equality to everyone in South Africa. Nor should it. It is preposterous at one and the same time to remark the widespread illiteracy in South Africa and to demand the universal franchise.
“Continue our moral pressure, by all means. But … pull back on the one-man, one vote business.”
The open racism on display here is startling, of course. But so is the blatant antipathy to democracy itself. An insistence on the rightness of popular self-determination is, in Buckley’s eyes, a form of “fundamentalism” — if the black majority in South Africa, after generations of white minority suppression, is not prepared to exercise the franchise in the way, and with the results, that Buckley prefers, then it is entirely right and popular for that white minority to deny them the vote indefinitely.
Not thirty years ago one of America’s most prominent conservatives offered the opinion, unsolicited, that black South Africans would not, could not, and should not govern themselves.
That shouldn’t be forgotten.