William F. Buckley’s Iago


Adam Luckey as Iago.

Spite, malice, vindictiveness: these are all poison for the soul, but given the right dramatic form they can also be quite entertaining. Of Shakespeare’s incomparably rich array of characters, I’ve always had a fond spot for Iago, the toad-like underling who plotted Othello’s downfall. Petty, full of schemes, quick to offense, chaffing at his lowly status, Iago is spite made flesh-and-blood. He’s also a busy little go-getter: he doesn’t just nurse his grievances, he harnesses his anger to give him the energy he needs to orchestrate a catastrophe. As the greatest dramatist who ever lived, Shakespeare must have felt a secret affinity for Iago,  who spends most of Othello directing the other characters from place to place, creating misunderstandings, keeping the plot moving forward. Iago is a playwright within a play.


If I had to encapsulate Peter Brimelow in a phrase, I’d say he is William F. Buckley’s Iago. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Brimelow was a rising star in the world of right-wing American journalism, often publishing in the pages of National Review. Which is to say that Brimelow was one of Buckley’s many minions and subalterns. This all ended in 1997 when Brimelow was fired from National Review. Since then Brimelow has eked out an existence at the fringes of American political discourse as the editor of VDARE.com, a haven for white nationalists and sundry neanderthals (Marcus Epstein, a star columnist at VDARE, was recently convicted  of assaulting a black woman, whom he karate chopped and called a “nigger.”)


Smarting from his rejection by Buckley and frustrated by the derailment of his career which has put him into the company of some very unhygienic lowlifes, Brimelow has let his resentment nurture and grow inside of him while he waited for the proper moment to take revenge. All this is Iago-like, although to be fair to the fictional character Iago had real courage and attacked Othello while the Moor was still alive and strong. Brimelow, a shiftier and sleazier soul, waited for Buckley’s death before making a stab at retribution.


When Buckley died last year Brimelow wrote a shockingly bitter obituary accusing Buckley of being a sodden, social climbing, Irish, embezzling, effeminate (possibly gay) fraud who betrayed conservatism. Last week, Brimelow returned to his Buckley obsession, dwelling at rather distressing length on the late writer’s bladder control problem which, Brimelow argues, made him engage in behavior that was “insanitary, disgusting, offensive and sociopathically irresponsible.” (It should be said that Buckley’s habit of urinating outside his limo onto the highway was very unwholesome, although it does provide a great metaphor for the relationship between the American conservative movement and civil society).  



Brimelow’s Buckley articles, brim filled with bile,  are fascinating document, and especially interesting because many of the offenses that WFB is accused of are not, to the eyes of normal people, that terrible.


Let’s look at few details:


1. Buckley’s Irishness comes up a few times: he’s described as an “Irish-American social climber” and “Irish Catholic.” There are pointed references to Buckley’s drinking, a vice much associated with Hiberian men. The implication of all this is that Buckley was your typical Paddy or Mick, good for some Blarney rhetoric but lacking in the fortitude of the true Anglo-Saxon.  Brimelow is notoriously xenophobic, constantly warning on his blog that America is being swamped by dark skinned immigrants, so it’s amusing to see to note from his Buckley article that his hatred of foreigners extends to Irish Catholics as well. An Englishman by birth, Brimelow has his nation’s ancestral hatred of the bog-dwellers of the Emerald Isle (ironically Brimelow has a propensity for marrying Irish women, although that perhaps falls under the typical imperialist pattern of taking native wives).


2. Buckley’s finances. Brimelow hints at financial improprieties. At one point Brimelow argues that “National Review subsidized Buckley’s plutocratic life style.” This really strains credibility. If you want to live like the Aga Khan, it’s not a good idea to start a magazine of ideas. One could just as easily argue that the Guggenheims used their art collection to subsidize their lavish way of life. About the SEC affair that Brimelow mentions, his account of it is at odds with the fact presented in John Judis very fine (and at times very critical) biography of Buckley.


3. Buckley’s effeminacy. Brimelow drops sly suggestions that Buckley wasn’t a real he-man: “he characteristically declined to raise the matter with me man (so to speak) to man” and “not the least evidence of Buckley’s unmistakable effeminate streak was a viciousness that showed in his flouting of such comforting conventions”. About the only thing one can say to this is that courage can be found among men and women alike, and that genuinely brave souls wait for their enemies to die before launching a libelous attack.


4 thoughts on “William F. Buckley’s Iago

  1. The inferior whiteness of the Irish has been a little obsession of mine for ages, kindled and rekindled every time Pat Buchanan’s pumpkin head pops up to defend racial purity. I’ve always wanted to ask Pat to his face when it was exactly that the Irish became exactly white?

  2. ‘Playwright-within-a-play’. Nice comment on Iago, shame you don’t give the credit where credit is due, and source it back to M L Wine’s critical analysis, which is where you got it. Perhaps invent your own phrases, rather than just ‘appropriating’ those of others to look like your own…? Plagiarism is a dangerous game…

  3. Hi Suzi — actually I’ve never heard of M.L. Wine, so I’ve never read his or her analysis. “Playwrite-within-a-play” is kind of an obvious joke and its not surprising, as a quick google search reveals, that a few other writers have used it. See here:


    and also here:


  4. Rapier, I believe Mr. Buchanan is only one quarter Irish, with two German American grandparents and one Scot making up the foursome. So please, don’t blame us.

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