Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, scourge of ‘Lennonism’

A blog called Zippidy Doo Da beat me to the punch in reprinting William F. Buckley’s 1990 column on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which exemplifies the closed and arrogant mind of this influential figure much better than all that “sesquipedalian spark.”

Buckley’s piece is the epitome of ignorant pseudo-analysis, a misguided riff on a piece of music by someone who has not heard it. Keep in mind that this is the man who all but founded the modern conservative movement and served as a model for the thinking that has gone on within it. As this column shows, Buckley’s intellectual method is biased and ideological, to say nothing of his contempt for popular culture (and, therefore, of everyone who participates in it).

It’s amazing that in all of his swashbuckling rhetoric Buckley misses the central message of the song, which is represented by the word “imagine”: Lennon is suggesting not some rigid atheistic doctrine but the idea of questioning destructive systems of social control. We are asked to imagine — i.e., think about — freedom from the restraints of religion and politics, not to pray to Mao.

There’s little substance to Buckley’s argument. It’s all a performance, pandering to the lowest-common-denominator American fear of the godless. Much like a George W. Bush speech, but with bigger words — proof, if any more were necessary, that Buckley was always playing to the peanut gallery.

I remember encountering the column in a book some time in the early ’90s. Here is the part that told me what kind of person Buckley was, and nothing I have learned about him since has changed that:

Now I do not know the melody of “Imagine,” but I have the lyrics in front of me, and what it amounts to is a kind of Bible, as written by the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Imagine there’s no heaven —
It’s easy if you try.
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people
Living for today.
I venture to say that those who imagine in that direction ought to make every effort to restrain themselves.

William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008.

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