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When he set up shop in 1947, Henry Regnery was ""A Conservative Publisher in a Liberal World,"" as he once wrote; and apart from what his publications may have contributed to ""the development of the modern conservative movement,"" the activities of his small, right-wing firm throw fresh light on that opprobrious object, the one-sided publisher's list. Regnery himself came to publishing not as a bookman but as an economics M.A. who'd been happiest in 1934-36 Germany--and decidedly unhappy with the New Deal programs he saw during a summer government stint. Back home in Chicago, he hooked up with the newsletter Human Events (1944-45), backed by ex-America Firsters; spun off into publishing pamphlets and then books critical, most particularly, of American severity toward Germany and weakness toward Russia; and, with help from his well-to-do father, launched a list along the same lines. Quick to appear were the writings of ex-Communist anti-Communists Louis Budenz and Freda Utley; Mortimer Smith's attack on the educational system, And Madly Teach; numerous German-authored works scoring the Nuremberg trials, for instance, or highlighting German opposition to Hitler. There followed, almost perforce, ""revisionist"" works questioning U.S. participation in World War II from start to finish; expos‚s of Soviet prison camps; attacks on U.S. weakness toward Chinese Communism and support of Israel; an outraged account of The Truman Scandals (where was the Watergate outcry then?); and two wave-makers, William Buckley's God and Man at Yale (1951) and Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind (1953). As Regnery maintains, few if any would have been published by the ""Eastern intellectual establishment"" (Kirk declined to shorten his book for Knopf); but nothing he says in behalf of most of them--in lengthy summaries and post-mortems--demonstrates them to have been worthier than they were originally taken to be. And he neglects to mention that other soberly conservative works--most especially Peter Viereck's Conservatism Revisited (1947)--and other anti-Communist testaments were published during the same years by regular houses. There was a bias at the time but no blackout; and there is no excuse now for Regnery's refusal--which his list reflected--to admit either the perniciousness of Nazism or the reality of McCarthyism. But neither is it cheering to read of the condemnation-by-association of his books and their authors. Save for an occasional remembrance and a few allusions to intra-conservative wrangles, Regnery's memoir is as monotonous as a buzz-saw; but as a record of an unpopular effort--even a necessary evil--it does give pause.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1979
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich