Right, I know, he just died so we have to pretend we did not loath him for a least two weeks. But I have the sense that William Buckley would not give me that courtesy, so forget that.

I am reminded that Buckley is often quoted as having said words to these effect:

I would rather be governed by the first 2000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2000 people on the faculty at Harvard University.

What a dummy.

The most recent instance in which I’ve seen the man with my own eyes, and heard him with my own ears, saying this (on TV, not in real life … because he’s dead and all) was moments ago on Meet the Press. Tim was replaying an old MTP tape from October 17th, 1965. In that tape, Buckley says what I quoted above, but he precedes it with the phrase “I’m often quoted as having said.” … so, since he was quoting himself, I suppose we cannot be sure of the exact phrasing, but you get the point.


I heard this quote for the first time in the 1980s when I was at Harvard, and of course I could not leave it alone. Now, what you have to understand is that it is well known that this was not simply a dig on Harvard, but also, a racist remark disparaging of the Irish. “The Boston Phone Book” is a euphemism for the “Hoards of Irish Immigrants and their Spawn.” So, Buckley was saying that he would prefer to have the our society managed by a random selection of subhuman and presumably inebriated Irishmen than the Harvard Liberal Establishment. This is clear.

(I’m reminded of a similar remark made by the intellectual leader of the Minnesota Independence Party, Jesse The Body Ventura, in reference to Saint Paul. Jesse claimed that the streets of Saint Paul were laid out by a gang of drunk Irishmen.)

So, when I heard this back then, I had a look at the first 2000 names in the Boston Phone book that were people (the white pages do include non-humans) to see what I could see. I found two things.

First, there are no Irish people listed in the Boston Phone Book’s first 2000 humans. ‘A’ is a very uncommon name for an Irish person. ‘A,’ however, does begin a lot of other names, like Aaron, Abrams, Abramson, and so on. In other words, Aleph isn’t just a Hebrew letter handy for crossword puzzles. ‘A’ starting a last name was, at least back in the 1980s, commonly correlated with being Jewish in Boston.

Given the moderately disproportionate share of Jews on the Harvard faculty in those days, I could have guessed that there would be a disproportionate share of Harvard Faculty members among those 2000 names. But I checked anyway.

This turns out to be difficult, as I recall, because a lot of people have similar or identical names, especially when many use only a first initial or two. I was unable to establish very many direct connections with total certainty (there were a number of faculty that I knew, and knew where they lived), but I do remember that when I reached 30 matches (in name, not necessarily an exact person match) between the two phone books, at just under 200 listings, I stopped, comfortable with a 10 percent sample and the knowledge that Buckley was a dork.

I should add this, however: When Buckley first made these remarks, back in the 1960s there were probably not quite as many Jews on the Harvard faculty. I suspect the British still had a stronger hold on that particular institution, but I can’t be sure.

Anybody out there have an old phone book collection handy?

Comments

  1. #1 Boobook
    March 2, 2008

    Here in Australia there is a well-known expression – ‘What chance do you have? Buckley’s or none.’
    William Buckley was a convict who escaped in 1804 and instead of killing him the aboriginals around Geelong adopted him. He lived with them for 33 years, completely isolated from Eurpopeans because the convict settlement packed up and went to Tasmania. Buckley moved to Tasmania after he was ‘rescued’.
    This has nothing to do with your Willaim Buckley, but is interesting.

  2. #2 K.P.
    March 2, 2008

    You can put that in your billabong and smoke it!

  3. #3 James
    March 2, 2008

    Now, what you have to understand is that it is well known that this was not simply a dig on Harvard, but also, a racist remark disparaging of the Irish.

    Really?

    I’ve heard the Buckley comment dozens of times and never thought it had anything to do with the Irish.

    Buckley was himself an Irish-American, and, like most of the Boston Irish he was supposedly sliming, of the Catholic persuasion. That adds to my skepticism.

  4. #4 greg laden
    March 2, 2008

    James: Have you lived in Boston?

    Buckley was as Irish as the Tower of London, despite his ancestry.

  5. #5 Brian X
    March 2, 2008

    William F. Buckley (oddly enough one of my parents’ best friends is a Bill Buckley, and he’s absolutely nothing like this twit) was not someone I paid a great deal of attention to outside of the matter of his massive gambling problem combined with his authorship of “The Book of Virtues”. What I want to know is how someone could naturally grow up with that accent without having been raised by one of the more retarded members of the British royal family.

  6. #6 jeffk
    March 3, 2008

    Jesse claimed that the streets of Saint Paul were laid out by a gang of drunk Irishmen.

    Wait, they weren’t?

  7. #7 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 3, 2008

    Not everything is about racism; I see no evidence that this comment was racist at all. And Buckley would have been smart enough to realize that the first 2000 names would not be frequently Irish. I see no compelling reason to see this as at all racist. There are a lot of valid critiques of Buckley that you could bring up. This is not one of them.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 3, 2008

    Josh,

    I’m afraid that your incredulity is not sufficiently powerful mojo to ward off W.F.Buckley’s well known and widespread elitism and general obnoxiousness. Do you not see my point? My point is that Buckley, who would just as soon telly you that he is the smartest person in the world as look at you with those creepy snake-like eyes, accidentally correlated a variable to itself and called it significant. He made a rookery error. Over and over again, it would appear.

    Feel free to deny anti-Irish racism if you like, but you cannot deny the fundamental truth of what Buckley did.

  9. #9 R. Totale
    March 3, 2008

    William F. Buckley (oddly enough one of my parents’ best friends is a Bill Buckley, and he’s absolutely nothing like this twit) was not someone I paid a great deal of attention to outside of the matter of his massive gambling problem combined with his authorship of “The Book of Virtues”.

    You’re thinking of Bill Bennett.

    Greg –

    Loath him? Really? Either your perspective is all out of whack or you have defined “loathsome” much more loosely than me. Also, it certainly is convenient for you that someone you disagree with ideologically just happens to be a dope and a racist. It’s almost as if it saves you the trouble of trying to understand him.

  10. #10 the real cmf
    March 4, 2008

    R.Totale : exactly what is there to understand about an elitist–the lace curtain underwear, or the better than thou arrogance?

    Greg: You have a great sense of Boston-Irish history here in this post. Where did you get that Boston Phone book phrase? I haven’t heard that,and couldn’t find it anywhere–but you are the third entry down on Google with that phrase;-)
    I did find a cool racial slur data base though

    http://www.rsdb.org/

    I like your use of the word racism here as well. Pierre Bordieux has been using this idea of racism and class racism for years, and its nice to see it get out there–yup, racism exist even amongst the classes, and the same theoretical ‘races’…

  11. #11 John Knight
    October 5, 2008

    Wow.

    This rant is the dumbest post I’ve read in a while, and that’s saying something.

    The “racist” accusation is bizarre.

    The hyper-literal take on “the first 2,000 names” is a hopelessly wooden interpretation.

    And the claim that Wm. Buckley was “a dope” is misplaced confidence at best.

    I suppose that Mr. Laden is smarter-than-average and reasonably competent at his job, but in the end, that’s not saying all that much. His intelligence and education obviously has not given him the common sense one wants in a high-ranking government official, and his glowing lack of humility marks him as completed unsuited to wielding power in a responsible fashion.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 5, 2008

    John: You are correct. I therefore resign my position as King of Massachusetts.