To honor the late conservative leader William Rusher, friends launched a website following the 100th anniversary of his birth. His biographer, Dr. David Frisk, Resident Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), authored the essay that is the centerpiece of the William A. Rusher Centennial Project site.

In “Rusher at 100: Realism for the 21st Century,” Dr. Frisk applies the lessons of his storied half-century career:

His centenary comes at a hard time for conservatives, who should ponder his rich legacy and its lessons … Familiar … as a great activist, debater, and spokesman … the longtime National Review publisher, American Conservative Union co-founder, mentor to Young Americans for Freedom, early Goldwater organizer, and very early Reagan advocate witnessed most of what there was to see in American politics.

“Experiencing much, Rusher also analyzed it with remarkable objectivity. Equally important, he did not flinch from deep worries about America’s future. His frequent anxiety and occasional pessimism made his frequent optimism more credible … Rusher had to face many disappointments. All are good reasons why conservatives should heed his insights now.”

Dr. Frisk, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont Graduate University and teaches a wide range of continuing education courses for AHI, is the author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012)— reviewed and praised in major outlets including the New York Times.

His essay focuses on Rusher’s understanding of the potential—and limits—of the conservative “Silent Majority,” which many on the right have long perceived.

In the 21st century, Dr. Frisk writes, “a cascade of developments” has weakened faith in the existence of a right-of-center silent majority—and this is “a crucial difference between conservatives’ attitudes throughout most of Rusher’s career and their attitudes now.” Conservatives also have reason to doubt the significance of any “silent majority” that might still exist:

“With all the relentless ‘wokeness’ and cancel culture … we see America undergoing a cultural revolution that threatens to destroy our society. The real troublemakers—now more accurately called oppressors—are a tiny minority, but one which exerts constant pressure, very often gets its way … and is rarely punished … In recent months, a modest pushback against the bullying anti-Israel ‘activism’ and anti-Semitism following Hamas’s October 7 atrocity has occurred, but its ultimate result is far from clear. The hard left will … rampage on in other ways … How little it apparently matters that so much public policy runs to the left of what the majority seems to want, or that the majority doesn’t share the left’s extremism. But I doubt Rusher would be surprised by this undemocratic disconnect.”

Dr. Frisk goes on to describe much of the realistically grounded advice Rusher offered his comrades in the late 20th century—urging today’s conservatives to acquaint themselves with these lessons.

A main example was his thoughts on the presidency and his hero, Ronald Reagan. In one interview, Rusher noted that “perhaps all presidents” were “gentler” than more ideological people would like. “He thought this was ‘no accident.’ Each president is, or starts out as, a repository of ‘the people’s trust,’ elected partly because voters felt he wouldn’t ‘go too far’ with it. As Rusher wrote in his New Majority Party book [in 1975], a great plus for Reagan was his ‘ability to communicate as a friend to the average American,’ a quality that would make him a ‘reassuring’ nominee.” It is a mistake, Dr. Frisk adds, to think “indulgently” of Donald Trump’s “post-presidency and his current campaign without judging them by the political wisdom of Rusher’s … points on presidents and on Reagan.”

The “Rusher at 100” essay also stresses the sources of his distinctive type of optimism:

“In my last interview … Rusher … [remarked] that conservatism had the great advantage … of reflecting the truth as to human affairs. For about his last 30 years, Rusher would recite after his many talks: ‘For want of me the world’s course will not fail / When all its work is done the lie shall rot / The truth is great, and shall prevail / When none cares whether it prevail or not.’ These lines … aren’t optimistic in a naïve way, he told me, but rather taught a ‘harsh’ lesson. ‘What it says is that the truth will damned well prevail … whether we like it or not. We had better get in accord with it, and then have confidence in it. It will not fail us.’ Hard-boiled and perhaps unfamiliar, the optimism here is nonetheless real.”

Rusher “doesn’t seem to have needed much of the more conventional kind of optimism to keep up the fight … Nor am I aware of any situation where Rusher was not a team player. Part of that … was his willingness to give full credit to anything positive … This decided tendency toward encouragement was perfectly compatible with his realism.”

The Rusher website also prominently features Dr. Frisk’s biography If Not Us, Who? and his book presentation at the Heritage Foundation, which aired on C-SPAN.

Among the popular courses in political science and history Dr. Frisk has taught, by Zoom and in-person in AHI’s stately mansion, is the just-concluded “Introduction to Conservative Thought.” He is working on an intellectual biography of Willmoore Kendall, a brilliant conservative political scientist.