Skip to main content

“Will the Jungle Take Over?” National Review and the Defense of Western Civilization in the Era of Civil Rights and African Decolonization


During the 1950s and 1960s, conservative intellectuals in the United States described African decolonization and the civil rights movement as symptoms of a global threat to white, Western civilization. In the most influential conservative journal of the period, National Review, writers such as William F. Buckley grouped these events together as dangerous contributors to civilizational decline. In the crucible of transnational black revolt, some conservative intellectuals embraced scientific racism in the 1960s. These often-ignored features of conservative intellectual thought provided space for white supremacist ideals to continue to ferment on the American right into the twenty-first century.

Hide All

1 William F. Buckley, “Must We Hate Portugal?”, National Review, 18 Dec. 1962, 468.

2 Buckley's numerous biographers almost completely ignore his and National Review’s commentary on Africa. See, for example, Felzenberg, Alvin S., A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017); Bogus, Carl T., Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011); Judis, John B., William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988); Bridges, Linda, Strictly Right: William F. Buckley, Jr. and the American Conservative Movement (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2007); Edwards, Lee, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010).

3 On African Americans as transnational activists see Plummer, Brenda Gale, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956–1974 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Merriweather, James, Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935–1961 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002). Gilmore, Glenda, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950 (New York: Norton, 2008); Nesbitt, Francis, Race for Sanctions: African Americans against Apartheid, 1946–1994 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); Horne, Gerald, Mau Mau in Harlem? The U.S. and the Liberation of Kenya (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). On American elites and the Cold War context of the civil rights movement see Dudziak, Mary, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000); Plummer, Brenda Gale, ed., Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Borstelmann, Thomas, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle: The United States and Southern Africa in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Borstelmann, , The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

4 On the rise of the New Right see McGirr, Lisa, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Perlstein, Rick, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001); Rymph, Catherine, Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Crespino, Joseph, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Allitt, Patrick, Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950–1985 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Lowndes, Joseph E., From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Dochuk, Darren, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010); Kruse, Kevin, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Shermer, Elizabeth Tandy, ed., Barry Goldwater and the Remaking of the American Political Landscape (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013).

5 On segregationists and global white supremacy see Rolph, Stephanie R., “The Citizens’ Council and Africa: White Supremacy in Global Perspective,” Journal of Southern History, 82, 3 (Aug. 2016), 617–50; Geary, Daniel and Sutton, Jennifer, “Resisting the Wind of Change: The Citizens’ Councils and European Decolonization,” in van Minnen, Cornelis A. and Berg, Manfred, eds., The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Louisville: University Press of Kentucky, 2013), 265–82; Zoe Hyman, “American Segregationist Ideology and White Southern Africa,” PhD dissertation, University of Sussex, 2012. See especially Hyman's discussion of National Review’s sympathy for the white minority Rhodesian government after 1965, at 224–27. On segregationist anticommunism see Katagiri, Yasuhiro, Black Freedom, White Resistance, and Red Menace: Civil Rights and Anticommunism in the Jim Crow South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014); Woods, Jeff, Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anticommunism in the South, 1948–1968 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004); Lewis, George, The White South and the Red Menace: Segregationists, Anticommunism, and Massive Resistance, 1945–1965 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004).

6 On this transnational, white, Western civilization see Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Bederman, Gail, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995); Gossett, Thomas, Race: The History of an Idea in America, new edn (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Hannaford, Ivan, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Nash, George, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 (Wilmington: ISI Books, 1998).

7 These writers included the Austrian conservative E. V. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, English journalist Anthony Lejeune, and the Dutch American sociologist Ernest van den Haag.

8 See, for example, Jackson, W. A., Gunnar Myrdal and America's Conscience: Social Engineering and Racial Liberalism, 1938–1987 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Barkan, Elazar, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). In recent years some scholars have emphasized the persistence of scientific racism in some quarters, while others have explored how the assumptions of race science were absorbed into the category of “culture.” See, for example, Schaffer, Gavin, “‘Scientific’ Racism Again?” Reginald Gates, the Mankind Quarterly and the Question of ‘Race’ in Science after the Second World War,” Journal of American Studies, 41 (2007), 253–78; Burkholder, Zoe, Color in the Classroom: How American Schools Taught Race, 1900–1954 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

9 See Grant, Madison, The Passing of the Great Race (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916); Stoddard, Lothrop, The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920).

10 Alvin S. Felzenberg is the latest biographer to describe a dramatic shift in Buckley's racial views in the 1960s. See Felzenberg, 157–62.

11 National Review’s circulation grew to over 100,000 by the end of the 1960s, a considerable feat for a magazine with highbrow aspirations. But the magazine's true influence was measured not in numbers but in its status as a gathering point for conservative elites and the intellectual engine for the conservative ascendancy in the GOP. It was read by everyone from future President Ronald Reagan and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to political strategist Karl Rove and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Not only that, Barry Goldwater's 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative was actually written by L. Brent Bozell, a National Review contributor and Buckley's brother-in-law. The book launched Goldwater on a path toward the Republican nomination in 1964 and helped propel the conservative movement's eventual capture of the GOP. See Bogus, 4–6, and Nash, 463.

12 See Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., 235–60.

13 As the historian George Nash observed, “If National Review … had not been founded, there would probably have been no cohesive intellectual force on the right in the 1960s and 1970s … To a very substantial degree, the history of reflective conservatism in America after 1955 is the history of the individuals who collaborated in – or were discovered by – the magazine William F. Buckley, Jr. founded.” Nash, 140.

14 William F. Buckley, “Why the South Must Prevail,” National Review, 24 Aug. 1957, 148–49; Buckley, “Deadend [sic] in South Africa?”, National Review, 23 April 1960, 254–55.

15 Buckley, “Why the South Must Prevail,” 148–49.

16 For background on the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 see Finley, Keith, Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight against Civil Rights, 1938–1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), 151–90. See also Mann, Robert, The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996), 178224.

17 Buckley, “Why the South Must Prevail,” 148–49.

18 Ibid.

19 On the Mau Mau Rebellion and British policy see Bennett, Huw, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Branch, Daniel, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Elkins, Caroline, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt, 2005); Osborne, Myles, “‘The Rooting Out of Mau Mau from the Minds of the Kikuyu Is a Formidable Task’: Propaganda and the Mau Mau War,” Journal of African History, 56 (2015), 7797.

20 “The Sharpeville Massacre,” Time, 4 April 1960, 20–21; “South Africa on Trial,” New York Times, 30 March 1960, 36. On Sharpeville see Frankel, Philip H., An Ordinary Atrocity: Sharpeville and Its Massacre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001); Lodge, Tom, Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and Its Consequences (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Parker, Peter, In the Shadow of Sharpeville: Apartheid and Criminal Justice (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

21 Buckley, “Deadend in South Africa?”, 254–55.

22 Ibid.

23 Buckley, “Why the South Must Prevail,” 148–49; Buckley, “Deadend in South Africa?”, 254–55.

24 On the difference between American conservative and liberal views of Africa in the 1960s see Grubbs, Larry, Secular Missionaries: Americans and African Development in the 1960s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), 1415. See also Bamba, Abou B., “Transnationalising Decolonisation: The Print Media, American Public Spheres and France's Imperial Exit in West Africa,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 11, 4 (2013), 327–49. On American media and the civil rights movement see Morgan, Edward P., “The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten: Media Culture and Public Memory of the Civil Rights Movement,” in Romano, Renee C. and Raiford, Leigh, eds., The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 137–66. On the American media's discomfort with black violence see Walker, Jenny, “A Media-Made Movement? Black Violence and Nonviolence in the Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement,” in Ward, Brian, ed., Media, Culture, and the Modern African American Freedom Struggle (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001), 4166.

25 For example, National Review defended African Americans’ “right to protest” during the Montgomery bus boycott, provided they did so in a “legitimate fashion.” William F. Buckley, “Foul,” National Review, 18 April 1956, 6. On another occasion, observing bombings in defense of segregation in the South, Buckley said the dynamite attacks were probably carried out by “perverted fanatics adhering to grotesque little gangs with fancy crackpot names” like the “Confederate underground.” At the same time, Buckley continued to express his opposition to Brown v. Board of Education and declared that the “Communist underground” was a more certain threat than southern white supremacists. William F. Buckley, “The Court Reaps Its Whirlwind,” National Review, 25 Oct. 1958, 262.

26 The Citizens’ Council was a grassroots group founded in Indianola, Mississippi in 1954. It quickly spread throughout the South, gaining tens of thousands of members. It attempted to tamp down the violence of the Klan and use economic pressure and legal maneuvers to preserve segregation in local contexts. The organization also distributed millions of pieces of literature nationwide to advocate its views. See “Association of Citizens’ Council of Mississippi, 2nd Annual Report,” Aug. 1956, Citizens’ Council Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries. See also McMillen, Neil R., The Citizens’ Council: Organized Resistance to the Second Reconstruction, 1954–1964 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971).

27 Richard Whalen, “Prince Edward: Law and Reality,” National Review, 12 Sept. 1959, 329–30.

28 Murray N. Rothbard, “Sense on ‘Backward Countries’,” National Review, 1 March 1958, 210.

29 E. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The South African Imbroglio,” National Review, 13 Feb. 1960, 106.

30 E. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “Letter from the Congo,” National Review, 18 June 1960, 393–94.

31 On the Congo crisis and the history of Belgian rule see Gerard, Emmanuel, Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); Stanard, Matthew G., Selling the Congo: A History of European Pro-empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012); Namikas, Lise A., Battleground Africa: Cold War in the Congo, 1960–1965 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013); Ewans, Martin, European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State, and Its Aftermath (New York: Routledge, 2002.

32 See for example, E. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “What about Katanga?”, National Review, 21 Oct. 1961, 266; William F. Buckley, “Katanga, the Committee, the UN,” National Review, 30 Dec. 1961, 437–39; Thomas J. Dodd, “Congo: The Untold Story,” National Review, 28 Aug. 1962, 136–44.

33 Frank S. Meyer, “Abdication of Responsibility,” National Review, 8 April 1961, 218.

34 William F. Buckley, “Will the Jungle Take Over?” National Review, 30 July 1960, 39–40.

35 William F. Buckley, “Grand Guignol,” National Review, 27 Aug. 1960, 101–2.

36 Richard Whalen, “Hammarskjold: Have Troops, Will Travel,” National Review, 27 Aug. 1960, 109–11.

37 Hustwit, William P., James J. Kilpatrick: Salesman for Segregation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 7475.

38 Ibid.

39 In his 1962 book The Southern Case for School Segregation, Kilpatrick bluntly and approvingly characterized white southerners’ views of superiority: “the Negro race, as a race, plainly is not equal to the white race, as a race; nor, for that matter, in the wider world beyond, by the accepted judgment of ten thousand years, has the Negro race, as a race, ever been the cultural or intellectual equal of the white race, as a race.” Kilpatrick, James Jackson, The Southern Case for School Segregation (New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1962), 2526. National Review promptly wrote a largely favorable review of the book. See L. Brent Bozell, “To Mend the Tragic Flaw,” National Review, 12 March 1963, 199–200.

40 In 1981, President Reagan would bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Burnham, declaring that he felt a “personal debt” to Burnham because of his influence. See Bogus, Buckley, 5–6.

41 James Burnham, “The Loneliest Men,” National Review, 12 March 1960, 164.

42 James Burnham, “Image in What Mirror?” National Review, 15 July 1961, 15.

43 James Burnham, “The African Shambles,” National Review, 28 Jan. 1961, 45.

44 Anthony Lejeune, “The Day Lumumba Died,” National Review, 25 March 1961, 182.

45 William F. Buckley, “Africa: The Kennedy Doctrine,” National Review, 25 March 1961, 170–71.

46 Willmoore Kendall, “Light on an American Dilemma?”, National Review, 5 Nov. 1960, 281–82.

47 On the history of IAAEE see Newby, I. A., Challenge to the Court: Social Scientists and the Defense of Segregation, 1954–1966, revised edn (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), 118–45; Tucker, William H., The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 70101.

48 A. James Gregor, “Heredity and Intellect,” National Review, 7 Sept. 1964, 287–89.

49 Ernest van den Haag, “Intelligence or Prejudice?”, National Review, 1 Dec. 1964, 1059–63.

50 For more examples of National Review’s treatment of scientific racism during the 1960s see Nathaniel Weyl, “The Reality of Race,” National Review, 15 Jan. 1963, 33–35; Arnold W. Green, “Science or Dogma?”, National Review, 13 Feb. 1968, 148–49.

51 Arnold W. Green, “Invincible Ideology,” National Review, 9 Sept. 1969, 916.

52 Tucker, 93.

53 William F. Buckley, “Black Madness,” National Review, 7 April 1964, 263.

54 William F. Buckley, “The Brown Decade,” National Review, 2 June 1964, 433–34.

55 William F. Buckley, “Maccabees and the Mau Mau,” National Review, 16 June 1964, 479–80.

56 William F. Buckley, “The Thin Blue Line,” National Review, 11 Aug. 1964, 679.

57 Will Herberg, “Who Are the Guilty Ones?” National Review, 7 Sept. 1965, 769–70.

58 See, for example, William F. Buckley, “Birmingham and After,” National Review, 21 May 1963, 397; “The Week,” National Review, 29 Jan. 1963, 52; William F. Buckley, “The Mississippi Dilemma,” National Review, 29 Dec. 1964, 1136–37.

59 Frank S. Meyer, “The Negro Revolution: A New Phase,” National Review, 4 Oct. 1966, 998.

60 William F. Buckley, “The Permanent Insurrection,” National Review, 8 Aug. 1967, 835–38. In this period Buckley began using words such as “combat” and “battle” to describe events in American cities.

61 “The American Dream and the American Negro,” New York Times, 7 March 1965, SM32. The transcript published by the New York Times departs at points from what the participants actually said. The video can currently be seen on YouTube. “James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965),” at

62 Ibid.

63 Bogus, Buckley, 9, 334.

64 Jeffrey Hart, “Raspail's Superb Scandal,” National Review, 26 Sept. 1975, 1062–63.

65 National Review’s preoccupation with racial capacities persisted into the 1990s and beyond. When Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein published The Bell Curve in 1994, arguing that there was a genetic link to racial inequality, National Review devoted an entire issue to the book. Many conservative intellectuals treated The Bell Curve as courageous truth-telling. See National Review, 5 Dec. 1994.

66 Most recently, in 2012, National Review awkwardly fired long-time contributor John Derbyshire for overtly racist comments. Derbyshire might justly have wondered when racist thought had gone out of fashion at the magazine. He promptly moved on to write for, an anti-immigrant website founded by Peter Brimelow, another former National Review contributor.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 59 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 9th May 2018 - 22nd May 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.