William F. Buckley vs. Conrad M. Black

William F. Buckley vs. Conrad M. Black

On a day when a repentant David Radler probably got what he deserved (which, as it turns out, is less than half the sentence doled out to his decidedly unrepentant former partner), my thoughts turn to another relationship spoiled in the heat of this imbroglio. I’m talking about Lord Black’s recent dust-up with his ideological soulmate William F. Buckley. Last Wednesday, writing on his blog for the National Review (the neo-con publication he founded), Buckley, while careful to ensure that in the broad strokes he states his admiration for Black, was equally careful to distance himself.

“His stand was absolutely consistent from day one. The charges were foolish; they sought to vest in judicial infamy that which is in the nature of things blameless. Moreover, the people who were contending otherwise were obtuse and vindictive, and should be put away somewhere to prevent the toxification of the common law and the resources of reason on earth. One came upon friend after friend of the defendant, in the months before sentencing, who, while perhaps permitting themselves a smile of furtive satisfaction over the raw impiety of it all, would agree: Conrad is out of his mind to pursue that line of defense.”

Black responds in kind, careful to announce his general admiration while at the same time registering his disappointment with Buckley’s failure to line up four square behind his defence. One senses in Black’s riposte a wounded tone delivered rather more in sorrow than in anger.

“He, of all people, knows, and has written countless times, that some principles transcend the convenience of those trying to defend them. He referred on Wednesday (as have some less eminent commentators) to my ‘raw impiety’ for criticizing the prosecutors. To question the antics of some U.S. prosecutors is not impiety. I would not expect most observers to recognize that I am fighting not just for my life and liberty, but also for the benefit of certain constitutionally guaranteed rights, essential to the rule of law. I did expect that from Bill Buckley, a conscientious, loyal, and intellectually fearless friend.”

Black, I think, misses Buckley’s point. Black could just as easily have afforded himself a public defence without resorting to the toxic rhetoric we all know too well (Nazis, toilet seats, etc.). For him to suggest he was merely questioning the antics of the prosecution rings false and reminds anyone who cares to know of his essential character flaw: hubris. It was ever thus and, one suspects, will ever be.

Beyond that, there was a ton of coverage and critique over the weekend, the most astringent of which came from Peter Preston in The Observer, who pointedly criticized the quid pro quo that put Black in the House of Lords:

“Conrad got his peerage from much the same cupboard Roy Thomson used, the one marked ‘Press barons, Canadian.’ And he got it because—at one remove—he rescued a relevant bit of creaking political infrastructure. If he’d reached in his pocket for a million or two to keep Central Office warm, the result would have been much the same. In fact, though, he only had to keep the Telegraph going to qualify. Fair words for fat peerages. The ancestral bargain, as pioneered by Balfour, Lloyd George, Harold Wilson and too many PMs besides. Bless you, Lord Copper. You scratch my back and I’ll puff you up like a party balloon.”

I’d pay dearly to hear Conrad’s retort.

Former Sun-Times publisher Radler sentenced to 29 months for fraud: Source [Chicago Tribune]

Former Hollinger director sentenced to 29 months: Source [The Times]

Black Times: Source [National Review]

Conrad Black: A reply to a friend, William F. Buckley: Source [National Post]

Enough of these press barons: Source [Guardian]

A Book Signing With the Author a World Away: Source [New York Times]

Sun-Times now gets to pay for Black’s crimes: Source [Chcago Tribune]

Optimistic Black pinning his hopes on an appeal: Source [Independent]